Nautilus

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

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