Internet-sensation Spike the 'drawing' beetle visits Winnie Palmer Nature Reserve
Not since The Who's "Boris the Spider" has a bug captured the public's attention like Spike the Beetle.
The male stag beetle from Japan shot to internet superstardom almost a year ago when owner Amanda "Mandy" Bryant tweeted photos of him "drawing" with colored markers.
The drawings looked like the work of a toddler trying to imitate Jackson Pollock.
"I went to sleep on Japan time, and I woke up and it had maybe 60,000 retweets and I had lots of followers and lots of questions," she said.
Bryant, 28, of Murrysville has spent the last 11 months answering those questions and parlaying Spike's online popularity into a line of merchandise.
On Wednesday, she introduced Spike and his cohort, Julius, a rainbow stag, to a group of 5- and 6-year-olds attending Bug Camp at Saint Vincent College's Winnie Palmer Nature Reserve.
The 13 children, fresh from playing bug bingo, were captivated by the large black beetle with a hard carapace and long mandibles.
Spike's genial personality belied his somewhat threatening appearance. Bryant was quick to reassure the children that the slow-moving insect does not bite.
"I have been pinched by Spike on accident, but it was my fault because I scared him," she said.
Some of the children were eager to reach out and touch Spike, while others didn't mind holding him. None of them was shy about offering their comments.
"It's like a scorpion."
"Maybe he can have a baby, and you can call him Spike Jr."
Aria Kuhns, 5, of Latrobe "petted" the beetle and was struck by the smoothness of the shell.
"They were really cool. They had big pinchers," she said.
Matthew Alderson, 5, of Southwest Greensburg, who attended camp with his twin brother, Cameron, said he liked Spike's smooth exterior and Julius' colors.
Bryant acquired Spike from a Tokyo breeder in January 2017 while doing an 18-month teaching stint in Japan. A 2008 graduate of Franklin Regional High School and a 2012 graduate of the University of Pittsburgh, she has a teaching certificate from Carlow University.
She said stag beetles are popular as pets with children in Japan. They're low maintenance, friendly and have the lifespan of a hamster.
Bryant discovered Spike's drawing prowess one day while hanging out with her friends. They took pictures of Spike holding miscellaneous items, such as a nail file or small knife, so she tried a pencil and a marker.
She posted pictures of Spike "drawing" on her personal Twitter account and was amazed by the response, so much so that she created a separate account that now has 85,000 followers.
doodle break ✏️ pic.twitter.com/NTCBm6jOsO— Spike the Beetle (@SpikeTheBeetle) June 10, 2018
"People were asking if it was a real beetle, if it was a toy, if it was Photoshopped, so I took some more pictures and videos to show he was really drawing the pictures," she said.
Spike's fame spread beyond social media to news media outlets such as the BBC, Huffington Post, Buzzfeed and others. She created a website for Spike and began offering his "paintings" for sale on eBay.
She recently returned from Washington, D.C., after shooting a segment on Spike for the German TV program "Galileo."
She describes the last year — the attention paid to Spike and the way it's changed her life — as surreal. "It's been very strange," she said.
Since returning to the United States in March, Bryant has moved back in with her mother, Debbie Bryant, and into a new phase of marketing Spike-related merchandise. A Kickstarter campaign to fund the manufacture of plush Spike toys, with poseable mandibles, has already raised $22,832.
The campaign, whose original goal was $9,000, continues through June 27.
Stephen Huba is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-850-1280, email@example.com or via Twitter @shuba_trib.