CORVALLIS — From monstrous African Goliath beetles to whip scorpions from Thailand to the famous iridescent blue morpho butterflies that haunt the jungles of Peru, there is hardly a rare bug in the world that Corvallis insect importer Mike Fehr hasn’t collected in the past four decades.
Fehr, who owns and operates his own company called Nature Sciences International, has special U.S. Fish and Wildlife permits that allow him to get thousands of exotic insects mailed to him from every tropical corner of the globe.
After he prepares the bugs in special “relaxing jars” to remove their brittleness and frames them, he sells the specimens to buyers all over the country and the world. The insects are dead, but their exquisite forms are a source of fascination and scientific value to his clients, which include university professors, collectors and bug enthusiasts.
It’s a niche that few other people in the world have carved out, and fewer still have done for as long as he has.
“I’m the only person who does this in the Rocky Mountain Northwest, I can tell you that,” he said. “It’s something that I’ve done my whole life.”
Fehr said he caught the insect-collecting bug, so to speak, early on in life.
“I’ve been sort of a bug guy all my life,” he said. “I took a nature course at University of Utah when I was 12, and part of that was making a bug collection. And I thought, ‘wow, this is just awesome.’ I did a lot of collecting, and I started building an actual collection.”
Fehr said when he was still a teenager he realized he could turn bug collecting into more than just a little hobby.
“When I was about 18 I realized that this wasn’t something that Joe Q. Public was going to be able to get, so I started framing them and selling them,” he said. “I got special permits that gave me the ability to import them, and I started keeping thousands of bugs in stock.”
Fehr has a dozen or so of his most incredible specimens on display at the Stone Cottage in downtown Hamilton, such as a giant stick-insect from Indonesia, a tarantula and several birdwing butterfly species.
Every year, he imports between 5,000 and 10,000 insects from suppliers in places like Malaysia, South America, Indonesia, Australia and Thailand.
“I get my insects mostly from tropical areas,” he said. “In the country of Papa New Guinea, the insect industry is so large it is actually a division of their government. My suppliers have permits and clearances to get them into the country. I have to have all that. The real key is you have to know what the bugs are, and you have to know their scientific names. It’s not like you can just say I’m going to start a bug business. It can be a long day at the office.”
Over the last 30 years, Fehr has built a strong customer base that relies on word-of-mouth and his reputation as a man that can get any insect.
“I sell both framed and non-framed specimens,” he said. “I have a lot of university professors back east that buy from me. I have a customer in Helena that has been buying from me for 30 years. He has so many insects that he had to build a room onto his house. A lot of people in Montana bump into this guy, and that’s where the referrals come.”
Fehr, who is the Corvallis girls’ tennis coach, also does lectures for biology classes at local schools.
“Young students just go bonkers,” he said. “They just love bugs. Most people generally really appreciate the opportunity to see them.”