Living brooch

Tourists in Mexico can buy brooches made of bejewelled ironclad beetles. Still living bejewelled ironclad beetles.

Carlos Valenzuela, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

This post began with a suggestion from a reader (Alistair S.) about the extreme toughness of the ironclad beetle. It can be run over by a car without dying. That’s a pretty amazing piece of natural engineering, much like the natural insect gears I wrote about a while ago. If you’re an insect collector apparently ironclad beetles are a real pain to mount because they are tougher than most insect pins. With a little more digging I found out that the hardiness of the ironclad beetle has been put to other uses. And they are actually worse than being run over by a car.

For at least a hundred years, people have been attaching imitation jewels and faux gold chains to those tough ironclad beetle carapaces to create a brooch known as ma’kech. The living brooch is attached to your front with the chain and a safety pin. The jewellery / insect will crawl around your clothes a little, but restrained by the chain they cannot get far. And apparently the beetle can live quite a long time without food or water.

Today this is mainly a thing sold to tourists in Mexico. The buyers, I imagine, wear it for a couple of days – for novelty’s sake – and then tire of it and dispose of the beetle. It’s a pretty messed up way to treat this hardy insect. But is it better or worse than eating them? (As a young tourist, I ate insects. They were chewy.)

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