The following story appeared in Clay Today on June 30, 2011

Fascination with bugs leads to business

Entomologist Katja Palmer and her husband, John Loveland, created “Amazing and Beautiful Butterflies.”

By Christina Leach Phillips

Correspondent

MIDDLEBURG — While most people go out of their way to avoid spiders and cockroaches, Katja Palmer finds beauty in them and has turned her love of insects into an art form and a business.

Palmer is an entomologist who creates art with dead insects. Her creations include butterflies in shadow boxes and lamps, tarantulas in computer mice, scorpions in key chains, yellow jackets in bottle openers, beetles in earrings, and spiders in pendants.

Palmer, who said her favorite is the butterfly, also uses moths, wasps, ants, dragonflies, centipedes, and “giant hissing cockroaches” in life-like terrariums.

The Middleburg resident sells the creations at craft shows and on a website.

Palmer said she became fascinated by insects as a child. Born and raised on a military base inGermany, she did not see many butterflies and insects until she visited her grandparents inArkansaswhen she was 8 years old.

“I never saw so many butterflies and insects! My grandparents took me on ‘butterfly collecting expeditions.’ I spent almost every waking hour looking for and at bugs, and, by the end of the summer, I had memorized the ‘Field Guide to North American Butterflies.’ After that I was hooked,” she said.

Palmer started collecting butterflies while she was a student at theUniversityofTulsaand working for an international butterfly collector.

About a year and a half ago, she said she was looking at her butterfly collection and thought, “These are really quite nice, and I think we could sell them.” 

She asked her husband, John Loveland, if he would build frames for the butterflies, and, thus began their business, Amazing & Beautiful Butterflies. “It kind of grew from there,” Palmer said.

Loveland, who had no previous experience with woodworking, said it has been a learning process. “The frames have to be exact so the glass and the backgrounds fit in them without rattling. The lamps are difficult to put together because they have to be assembled around the butterflies…and of course the butterflies themselves are so fragile you can’t even blow on them because they will shatter,” he said.

Palmer said they buy their insects internationally. “Over the last 10 to 15 years, butterfly farming in areas like Costa Rica, some CaribbeanIslands, and Peru, has started up as a major business, and it produces more income in the area than the slash and burn farming,” she said. So, the butterfly farms are offsetting some of the habitat destruction that was happening in our rainforest areas.”

As the business has grown, it has moved from one room in their house to almost every room, and Loveland, who used to run a small construction company, recently quit his job to work in the business full time.

Almost every weekend, the couple goes to craft shows to sell the artwork, and their website gets orders from all over the world. “We just shipped an order toAustralia,” Palmer said.

She said some people get upset because they use dead butterflies.

“I always try to explain to them that the butterfly farms are beneficial to the environment by saving rainforest habitat,” she said. “As a conservationist and wildlife biologist, environmentally, I have no issue with what we do.  I find it odd though that people will get all upset about using butterflies, because butterflies are pretty, but at the same time they won’t hesitate to step on a bug, spray their yard, cut down a tree. . . Butterflies may be beautiful, but they are bugs after all.”

She said kids are fascinated by the collection. “I’m always happy they can see these beautiful creatures close up and maybe develop a love for the environment the same way I did,” she said.

Palmer describes herself as an “arachnophobic entomologist.”

“I have actually enjoyed mounting out tarantulas and other spiders because I can kind of overcome my fear,” she said.  Of course, if one of them moved I’d be the first one out the door!”

For more information, go online to: http://www.abbutterflies.com.