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Amanda Price’s day was going as expected. Terribly. It was presentation day in biology, and Amanda had prepared what was, in her mind, a masterpiece explaining one of the many wonders of the natural world. She knew from past experience, however, that her fellow sixth graders at Oyster Cove Middle School would probably feel differently.
When Mrs. Mallard called her to the front of the room, Amanda took a deep breath and gathered her visual aids. All around her she could hear the rest of the class fidgeting nervously in their seats. Some students eyed the door, ready to sprint for freedom if things got out of hand. They knew something icky was about to happen. Something that involved an unsettling number of legs.
It was well known that Amanda was a bug expert. Insects, arachnids, and other arthropods were her hobby—her whole life, really. Her bedroom was lined with tanks housing rare species of bugs, and most of the books on her crammed shelves were dedicated to her invertebrate obsession.
It wasn’t a typical pastime. Amanda didn’t know many girls (or boys, for that matter) who truly liked spiders and ants. But Amanda didn’t just like them. She loved them. She loved them so much that whenever she could, she focused her schoolwork on her favored subject. Praying Mantises and You, The Plight of the Tarantula, and Tree Lobsters: Where Are They Now? were just a few of the reports she’d given in Mrs. Mallard’s biology class in an attempt to help others appreciate the wonder of bugs. With eager anticipation, she’d stood in front of the class and allowed walking sticks or luna moths to cling to her arm, only to watch her classmates emit horrified moans and make barf faces at one another.
“I’ve got the vapors!” Amanda recalled Sheila Swaddles swooning from the back of the class during one of her more memorable presentations.
Yet Amanda felt certain that one day, something would spark the interest of one of her classmates, and her work would all be worth it.
She had hoped that day would be today, and she had prepared a report titled Madagascar Hissing Cockroaches: Misunderstood and Magnificent. It was perhaps her best report to date, and she could hardly wait to deliver the astonishing information she’d gathered. But before she had even finished the introduction, Amanda heard sniffling from the back row. Allergy season, she thought hopefully as she moved on to her next index card.
The class seemed a little less agitated as Amanda detailed the classification of her favorite cockroach in relation to the wider world of insects. In fact, some students even looked as if they might be learning something from Amanda’s lecture. But then she stepped closer to the small tank she’d brought and kept covered with fabric. With a motion that made it look as if she were a magician revealing her latest trick, she swept off the cover. There in the tank were two of the biggest Madagascar hissing cockroaches ever to crawl on the East Coast. They were the size of doughnuts. Black, shiny doughnuts.
Amanda smiled to herself. The silence in the room indicated that her classmates were also anticipating what was to come. She removed the lid of the tank.
“You’re not actually going to touch those,” Wayne Guttles blurted out. “Are you?”
Of course she was. Her grade depended on a top-level presentation, and she hadn’t yet held her pets that morning. Without hesitating, Amanda reached into the cage and grasped one of the gigantic bugs before plucking up its friend with her other hand.
She continued with her report, explaining how the creatures’ exoskeletons were so strong that it was hard to crush them. The words were barely out of her mouth when a girl in the front row began openly sobbing.
Amanda ignored the interruption. She needed to focus. The best part of her report was coming up. “The Madagascar hissing cockroach makes its signature sound by forcing gas through breathing pores, or spiracles, located on its thorax and abdomen,” she stated, and held up her favorite specimen, Trina, for the class to see.
“You mean it farts?” Darren Dibbles asked. He snickered loudly. Mrs. Mallard stifled the class clown with a look that would curdle milk and then turned it on the rest of the room. It worked.
The students were almost completely silent when Trina hissed.
Until that moment Amanda thought the wide dislike of roaches was simply a PR problem—the bugs had a bad reputation. They needed better marketing to overcome their association with filth. But the horror they elicited was made very clear when Killer, the second cockroach, let out a loud hiss of his own. The arthropods’ disturbance signal created such an intense reaction in the room that the school nurse had to be called to dispense mass first aid.
Amanda returned her pets to their travel cage while all around her, students tried to recover. They wiped tears from their eyes, slumped limply on their desks, or sniffed smelling salts. Once the cage was covered, Mrs. Mallard quietly requested that Amanda not bring live examples in the future. “Never again,” she said softly.
But it was already too late. Glancing around the classroom, Amanda knew her fate was sealed. She had been unpopular before starting this amazing report—but now things were going to get worse. Way worse. Amanda wished she had a magnificent uncrushable exoskeleton like Trina’s. Based on the glares she was getting from her classmates—the ones who were still conscious, anyway—she felt like she might need it.
MADAGASCAR HISSING COCKROACH
Fun Bug Fact: Madagascar hissing cockroaches create their celebrated “hiss” by forcing air through small breathing holes called spiracles.
Text copyright © 2017 by Sarah Hines Stephens and Benjamin Harper
Illustrations copyright © 2017 by Imprint