Once upon a time on the Yucatan peninsula there lived a beautiful princess who fell in love with the prince of a rival tribe. Their love was forbidden and they could never marry. When the prince was caught he was sentenced to death. A shaman took pity on the couple and changed the prince into a beetle that could be decorated. The princess was able to wear her love over her heart as a piece of jewelry -- or so the story goes. That is supposedly why women in Mexico wear live Maquesh beetles as jewelry.
The history of wearing beetles is believed to have started with the Egyptians thousands of years ago when soldiers supposedly wore scarab beetles into battle because they were believed to have magical powers. In 2006 fashion designer Jared Gold shocked the world when he briefly popularized the use of bedazzled Madagascar hissing cockroaches as living jewelry. It is in Mexico, though, where the fashion accessory started with the Maya, that the creatures are still very popular. Mayan women have been wearing decorated beetles as jewelry for many centuries.
The Maquech (or Makech) beetles are decorated with rhinestones and gold by artisans, most of whom take care to make sure that the insects retain their full range of motion. A tiny gold chain is attached to then as a leash so that they don't wander off. The other end of the chain pins to your shirt.with a decorative safety pin.
These gentle, flightless bugs can live for up to three years on a diet of apples and damp, rotting wood. Of course this means that you can't just keep them in your jewelry box. They need to be kept in a proper terrarium that is warm and dry with lichen-covered logs. Talk about high maintenance jewelry!
The beetles are sold in tourist shops, but visitors should be aware that these creatures are not allowed to cross the Mexican border in any direction without the proper permits. People trying to bring them into the United States can face some hefty fines. Some confiscated (and now deceased) specimens reside at the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C.
Naturally this practice has animal rights organizations, such as PETA, up in arms. They cite the use of living creatures as ornamentation as being cruel.
So is this beauty or bizarre? You can judge for yourself. The answer is likely to be deeply entrenched in the culture you were raised in.
Images via The Jeweler Blog