Western Massachusetts town populations are typically small – until you figure in the residents of 264 Main Road in Westhampton. Then the census takes a giant leap: A building tucked away in the woods is home to hundreds of thousands of creatures.
In fact, the place is just crawling – with Daphnia and Drosophila and Tenebrio. Translation: water fleas and fruit flies and mealworms.
But they don’t stick around long. The business of Berkshire Biological, is to get these insects hatched, fed and up and running – and then ship them out, pronto. The firm supplies live insects and other organisms (guppies, chameleons, hermit crabs) to … schools around the country, where teachers use them to give students a look at phenomena like food chains and life cycles.
In one of the rooms at Berkshire Biological, dozens of fast-growing fava bean plants reach for the grow lights suspended above them. Take a closer look at the stems and leaves, and you’ll find that they’re swarming with tiny green aphids.
You can’t go wrong with a pea aphid, Christine Cousins says – … if you’re interested in observing voracious appetites and wild population growth. A school ordering the aphids gets a fava bean plant packed in a Styrofoam pot for each child – stowaways included. “The child gets the plant and counts how many aphids are on it,” Cousins says. One day there are just a few. “But the next day they may have doubled.” And as a bonus, Cousins says, you can almost see the births with the naked eye.
Or maybe it’s fruit flies you’re looking for? Berkshire Biological has a healthy supply. It’s enough to send a produce manager into cardiac arrest. Drosophila’s powers of reproduction can seem phoenix-like, Cousins notes. A teacher may unpack a shipment that appears dead on arrival and hear a chorus of youngsters saying, “oh, they didn’t make it! But wait, Cousins advises. Within a few days there’s a new batch – and a lesson on eggs, larvae and life cycles.
– From Bugs By The Pound ~ in Hampshire Life, July 29, 1994 – Margot Cleary
“Within days, Berkshire Biological can put a rare, non-amphibious frog in the hands of a schoolchild in McGrath, Alaska.
Berkshire Biological … puts living materials in the hands of elementary school biology students nationwide.
Sending rare xenopous frogs native to Africa from Massachusetts to … Alaska requires great care. Before shipping, Berkshire workers use the latest weather charts to estimate how much heat insulation creatures and plants might need. In the summer, Berkshire does the reverse, inserting cold chemical compound bags in the boxes that can keep a shipment cool for twenty hours.”
– From Stock in Trade in the Hampshire Gazette, – Andrew Ayers