Why I Traveled the World Hunting for Mutant Bugs

When Chernobyl happened, I knew it was time for me to act. Nineteen years earlier, I had first drawn malformed and mutated flies while working in the zoological department at the University of Zurich as a scientific illustrator. Zoologists had fed poison to the flies, called Drosophila subobscura, (Diptera) in order to study how they would mutate. The poison resulted in grossly asymmetrical features of the flies’ offspring. I found the mutated flies so impressive that I began to paint them in my free time. By 1969 I had started my own ongoing private research effort, focused on painting true bugs, of the suborder Heteroptera.

By 1985, the professor I worked for left the university to become a pensioner, and I lost my job. In April 1986, the number four reactor of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant let loose a radioactive plume into the atmosphere that would drift over much of Europe, resulting in an estimated tens of thousands of cancer deaths.

The small-scale laboratory experiments at the University of Zurich were to me like prototypes of a new nature, now

You're reading a preview, sign up to read more.

More from Nautilus

Nautilus9 min read
Homo Narrativus And The Trouble With Fame: We think that fame is deserved. We are wrong.
Our understanding of fame is critical to how we see each other and our society. But it is also badly wrong. Let me tell you why. We humans are storytelling and story-finding machines: homo narrativus, if you will. In making sense of the world, we loo
Nautilus14 min read
Language Both Enraptures and Deceives Us: An interview with linguist and writer Julie Sedivy.
The purpose of language is to reveal the contents of our minds, says Julie Sedivy. It’s a simple and profound insight. We are social animals and language is what springs us from our isolated selves and connects us with others. Sedivy has taught lingu
Nautilus4 min readScience
Mind the Gap Between Science and Religion
Have you heard that we may be living in a computer simulation? Or that our universe is only one of infinitely many parallel worlds in which you live every possible variation of your life? Or that the laws of nature derive from a beautiful, higher-dim