Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Dynastes fibula

Beetle brooches battle bug bots for hearts of Mexicans

Fri June 13, 2008 6:41pm EDT

By Raquela Villarreal

TÉJUXPAN (Reuters) – Juan Medrillo, 27, lounges with a flavored coffee in the city square. On the lapel of his silk Gaultier dinner jacket crawls a large beetle with a jeweled carapace, secured to the garment by a small gold chain and pin. Since his late teens, Medrillo has always accessorized himself with a beetle brooch, or maquech.

He will replace his maquech once it dies, as he has before (a beetle can live up to a year). He claims the next one will be “more splendid even than this, meaning the most fabulous in all of Mexico.” He has not yet worked out the design for the successor’s decor, but he is already certain of one thing: “It will be a living bug. I’m never going to wear some imported gadget. That’s not a maquech.”

Medrillo has taken his side in a growing cultural schism. Over the past few years, some Mexicans have chosen miniature Japanese robots (or functional Taiwanese knockoffs) to become their maqueches. The conversion process is simple and the result is seen as less squashable than the classic variety.

The tradition of living insect jewelry is rich along the Yucatán Peninsula, and never more so than the town of Téjuxpan, where the Buffalo clasp beetle (Dynastes fibula) is prevalent. The buffalo clasp is the ideal bug for a brooch, due to its size, extremely resilient elytra (casing), long life span and overall hardiness.

The imported Isukiraba or ASBU (Autonomous Scarab BUddy) devices both look like beetles and are close in size to buffalo clasps. They utilize similar software platforms that run on tiny detachable memory sticks, which allow them to respond to speech, play simple games and other functions. In other words, they can do things as brooches that real beetles can’t.

But the mecha-maqueches may not be quite as durable as reputed. Unverified rumors abound of them consistently losing to buffalo clasps in illicit beetle blood sports (apparently neither model has fight programming). More evident is their allure to unyoked male beetles, who mistake the luminescent robot eyes for those of a female of their species in heat — and attempt to mate with them, with destructive results.

“A beetle mounted my ASBU maquech yesterday,” weeps a visibly upset Lupita Jambrina, 12. “It got blattapappazonza [local slang for insect semen] all over her and now she won’t work. She had an audio diary function and I used to tell her everything.”

But if Lupita’s robot friend can’t be fixed, she might consider taking it to the toy sales and repair shop El Balero, run by Pablo Navarrete, 62. Business has surged for Navarrete since he began offering to convert broken electronic pets into traditional (and rugged) wind-up toys. The addition of classic clockwork innards, with their distinct whirring and retro-appeal, might for some owners alleviate the loss of cutting-edge AI interface.

“Why would you want to talk to your maquech anyway, or ask it the time?” ponders Navarrete. “Better to just wind it up and let it crawl around a little. That’s all a piece of jewelry should do.”