our never-ending quest for fun in the Bay Area, Heather
and I stumbled across the Antique & Collectibles Flea
Market held at the Embarcaderos Pier 29 every Sunday morning.
San Franciscans who can peel themselves out of bed at the
crack of dawn will find interesting odds and ends at the
flea market. Of the dozens of tables, one display of mounted
and framed beetles, scorpions, moths, and butterflies (all
varieties ranging in size from thumbnail to gym sneaker)
caught our attention.
proprietor, Bruce Frybarger, began selling insects fourteen
years ago. As a young man, trips to Asia and Africa fed
Frybargers craving for ethnographic tribal art. He says
he noticed his friends buying their first new cars and houses
around the time his travels drained his bank account. Fortunately,
he found a market for the mounted insects and art he collected
overseas. Diligence paid off, and a few years ago Frybarger
was able to quit his day job and sell his bugs full-time
to retailers and collectors who come to the flea market.
are these insects killed? Do you run around with a big ether
the bigger beetles, you lift up a chink in the armor and
get a needle in there. The butterflies are squeezed in the
thorax and that kills them.
you ever been given a hard time by animal rights activists?
its so politically incorrect to wear furs and so on. Insects
are a very renewable resource. They are something you could
hang on your wall and not feel like youre depleting the
you ever go on bug hunts yourself?
mostly do that for fun. Theres a lot of prep work involved
in getting insects ready to ship. Beetles, for instance,
take a long time to dry out and theyre stinky. I prefer
to buy from regional dealers who may have fifty or a hundred
people working for them. Theres no way one can make a business
out of tracking insects down and catching them on their
me a bug hunt horror story.
butterfly (points to an iridescently blue-colored specimen)
is the most expensive genus in the world. The reason is
that most butterflies breed clones that will all look the
same. But this one will come out a slightly different color
[every generation]. In Japan everybodys looking for a new
color of butterfly no one has seen before, so some Japanese
collectors will pay up to ten thousand dollars a piece for
these. One of the people I know who goes out to look for
these ran out of food, so now hes living on roots and bugs
while hes out there looking for this butterfly.
this the largest scorpion in the world?
an Emperor Scorpion. Theyre the second largest in the world.
The largest is a Rock Scorpion from Africa. Those are very
hard to come by. I carry [versions of] the largest insects
in the world. Thats the biggest insect in the world (pointing
to an eight-inch beetle). Its called Titantus Gigantus.
But thats not a big examplethey get a lot bigger
but those cost about a thousand dollars.
insect collecting go through trends like other collectible
no real trend. Im a little concerned it might become a
fad. The studio that did Toy Story is doing one now called
Bugsa whole bunch of people will be entering the business.
But that business will only be for framed insects. As far
as the collectors out there buying specimens, that doesnt
do you only sell insects from foreign countries?
dont carry any US insects, because I only have to deal
in Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species,
which is known as CITES, by having the overseas insects.
But if I dealt with US insects I would be dealing with the
Lacey Act, CITES, and they Endangered Species Act. It just
becomes too complicated and too much paperwork. Not only
that, but tropical insects are more brightly colored. A
lot of the US insects dont look that great at all.
there a difference between what foreign and domestic collectors
look for in insects?
Japan and France, a collector wants everything. They dont
care what it looks like. Some Japanese will pay a thousand
dollars for some ugly brown little beetle. In the US, people
want the beautiful insects, and thats my whole business.