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    “We kinda have a rule: If we can’t hold it or play with it, we don’t want it,” says Blair Leano-Helvey, owner of Idlewild Butterfly Farm in the Shelby Park neighborhood. Last summer, the 36-year-old, who studied entomology at UK and has “been very guilty of hoarding bugs” since she was a kid, opened Idlewild, an offshoot of her company that can rid your house or yard of “bad bugs” without using pesticides. 

    “We’ll get you warmed up before we throw something really big at you,” she says to me.

    Dead leaf mantis in my hair, and clinging. This one’s the most adventurous of the three sisters, named for their brown bodies that mimic fallen leaves. The other is shy, playing dead. The third, a diva, whips her head, all nuh-uh!, and flares her accordion-like wings to reveal eye markings underneath. Forty thorny devil walking sticks — large and poky, with great grips — hang in an antique-y display, most hiding in their arranged earth. There’s Henrietta, an emperor scorpion, moving sideways on Leano-Helvey’s hand. “They’re like teddy bears, guinea pigs,” Leano-Helvey says.

    In spring, the “fly house” (the greenhouse out back) is alive with thousands of monarchs, swallowtails and other butterflies. Anybody can come in for free, watch wings flit for hours. (A more thorough tour is $8.) For now, the insectarium — cool blue and white like sky falling, bleach-clean, doors sealed tight — pulses with the glass cases that line the walls. “The bugs used to live with me, and my husband didn’t like it,” Leano-Helvey says. “At night, you could hear all the crickets chirping throughout the house, the scorpion eating — crunch, crunch, crunch.” 

    This article originally appeared in the February issue of Louisville Magazine. To subscribe, click here. 

    Photos by Aaron Kingsbury

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