A Bug-Eat-Bug World

"The pavilion was like a child to me," explains Weissmann, who says his decision to sue was a difficult one. "How could I go out there and kill my own child, even though it's become a rebellious kid? When you see your child going out in its own direction--even if it's the wrong one--there's little you can do.

"A year ago, when I was fired, I thought my life was over," he says. "I slept late in the morning, and I couldn't sleep at night. I thought I was retired at 37. If I'd had my choice, I would have spent the rest of my career at the Butterfly Pavilion."

Today Weissmann and Cowan have set up shop in a Northglenn industrial park. Their fledgling company, Kallima Consultants, is named for an iridescent blue butterfly whose wings resemble an autumn leaf when closed. The two men help zoos and butterfly houses around the world set up small, individual displays--Hercules beetle exhibits, honeybee farms and the like. But their new dream, as one might expect, is much, much bigger:

A micro-zoo!
Weissmann and Cowan want to create the next generation of bug zoos, where insects live in a natural environment that visitors can touch, smell and experience. No longer would a tarantula be placed in a tank or behind glass; it would live on a tree, its native habitat. Bugs living in a desert exhibit filled with sand and real plants would stay within their assigned range with the help of some kind of invisible border: a moat, a high-powered stream of air, or a yet-to-be-invented gizmo. "In a micro-zoo, the insects have to fit into a story line," says Weissmann, who calls the Butterfly Pavilion and most other bug zoos "a hodgepodge of gee-whiz exhibits."

Their large, whitewashed work space, a former photo studio, has become the scientists' lab. The room is kept warm and humid for Kallima's giant crickets and cockroaches; an iguana takes a sun bath under a heat lamp. Weissmann and Cowan plan to spend the next two years tinkering with the technology that could put their high-tech bug haven on the map. "Eighty percent of the world's animals are invertebrates," says Weissmann. "We have over one million species to try out."

He and Cowan are crunching the numbers for a possible micro-zoo in D.C., Phoenix, California--or Denver. But this time around, it will be Weissmann and Cowan's baby, for real. No board of directors, no nonprofit squabbling--just two guys and a zillion ideas.

--Worland

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