By Norris Chambers

            When we were growing up a trip to town meant a visit to the trick and joke shop to see what was new and what we could afford to buy. We probably did more than our fair share of keeping up with the latest trickery. The trick store sold about everything from itch powder to rubber chewing gum.

On one particular trip I was interested in an item that was labeled “Mexican Jumping Beans”.  Who ever heard of a bean jumping? A bean might make an unsuspecting school mate jump if properly used in a slingshot. A tiny cardboard box housed the wild beans and the labeling indicated that there were five beans inside. The price was five cents.

The store attendant was very helpful in answering my questions about jumping beans. He opened the box and rolled two of them into the palm of his hand. They rolled around like they knew what they were doing.

“How do they do that?” I asked. He told me that what I was asking was a deep secret that had been well kept through the ages. I made a quick decision to invest in the box of beans. I opened the box and assured myself that I had five active individuals and gave the man one of my nickels. I put the box in my shirt pocket and looked around a little more, but that was the extent of my spending spree for that shopping trip.

The jumping beans looked a little different from any of the varieties we raised on the farm, but there was no doubt about them being beans. They were a little misnamed because they just rolled around with spasm-like movements. When I released them on the dining table they did considerable moving around, but didn’t jump at all. Moving was strange enough so I decided not to worry about the failure to jump.

Clifton had never seen nor heard of jumping beans and he was about as excited as I was about them. We put one of the beans on a workbench and watched it roll around.

“What makes it do that?” Clifton asked, not really expecting an answer. “Why don’t we open one and see what kind of machine it has inside.” That was agreeable with me. I had been curious, too. We would still have four left if we damaged the patient beyond repair. After discovering the secret we might be able to repair the damage with glue.

Without donning white gowns and gloves and with no nose covering we began the delicate operation on a jumping bean. Our precision tools consisted of no more than a pair of pliers and a pocket knife. We carefully opened the bean and stood by to examine the contents.

When the shell split we were shocked to see a small worm rolling vigorously around. It continued its routine after rolling out of the bean and onto the operating table. So the bean was hollow and the motive power that made it roll around was a peppy worm! We had discovered the secret of the Mexican jumping bean.

After a serious conference we decided that it would be impractical to return the little fellow to his home inside the bean and properly close the shell.

We took the remaining beans to school to show our fellow students. Most of them had never seen a jumping bean. The first question asked was, “What makes it roll around and if it’s a jumping bean why doesn’t it jump?”  We were careful not to divulge the secret we had discovered on the operating table. I made a simple statement to explain why there was no jumping. “It must have been named wrong. We haven’t seen one of them jump.”

There was much interest in the beans and a nice crowd gathered around the desk where we were staging the performance. One smart boy accused us of using a magnet after inserting some metal into the bean. We proved him wrong by moving away and permitting the beans to continue their maneuvering.

During the height of the excitement the science teacher walked into the room. He was anxious to see what was going on and walked boldly up to the desk. He listened briefly to the conversation and then said: “Just as peanuts are not nuts, the jumping bean is not a bean. It is actually a section of a seed and the larva of a moth called Laspeyresia saltitans is rolling around inside. The beans don’t jump; they just roll with the movement of the larva.” The mystery was solved.

Did we have fun with the jumping beans? They were probably the funniest thing that happened all day. Some days the worms have all the fun!