Mexican Jumping Beans

In the 70's through the early 80's Thrifty's Drug and Discount Stores would announce the end of summer buy selling Mexican jumping beans. They were a seasonal item that would show up late August just as summer vacation ends. The name is really a clever marketing device as the reality of the bean and its need to hop around is repulsive and quite sad. First off they dont look like beans at all. They are some sort of pod segmented into thirds. Second they dont jump they just move. Third, its not the bean it is the creature inside that is doing all the work.

Lets take look into the sad life of the Mexican jumping bean.

The common jumping beans sold in novelty shops throughout the southwestern United States come from a deciduous shrub (Sebastiana pavoniana.) The jumping bean shrubs grow on rocky desert slopes and along arroyos in the region of the Rio Mayo in the states of Sonora and Chihuahua. One of the best places to see this shrub is in the vicinity of Alamos, Mexico, known locally as the "jumping bean capital of the world."

Just as pineapples are not apples, Eggplants are not eggs, and republicans are not publicans, the jumping bean is not a bean, nor is it a seed. It is actually a small, thin-shelled section of a seed capsule containing the larva of a small gray moth called "the jumping bean moth" (Laspeyresia saltitans). After consuming the seed within the capsule section, the robust, yellowish-white larva has the peculiar habit of throwing itself forcibly from one wall to the other, thereby causing the jumping movements of the capsule. Mexican jumping bean capsules typically separate into three parts or sections, some of which contain a moth larva. It is these separate sections (technically called carpels) that are sold as "jumping beans."

The "beans" jump as a survival measure in order to protect themselves from the heat which can cause them to dry out. The ultraviolet rays from the sun stimulate them to jump, even in cool temperatures, but leaving them in the sun for extended periods will dehydrate and kill them.

These creatures are doomed from the start.

They were harvested and packaged, usually in groups of four, placed into a foam-lined Lucite case, and shipped off to Thrifty's so they could be sold to kids. Kids who would toss them about, throw them, keep them in their jacket pocket for months at a time, and then, throw them away. Inside the larva, or as I like to call it, MAGGOT, is subjected to unfathomable abuse. It is just trying to become a damn moth. Now if they were sold with the name "Twitching larva from Mexico" I doubt they would be on the counter at Thrifty's next to the Bubble Yum.
Even though they are a disgusting form of life they still have the right to survive. To me, the idea of the" Magical Mexican Jumping Bean" is horrible. Buying an object with no indication there is a living thing inside is horrible. Imagine buying a punching bag that squeaked every time you hit it. Funny and kinda cute until you realize there is a living thing struggling to survive inside.
Since Thrifty's is now Rite-Aid they no longer sell these "beans."

They Always Come Back:
They are all over the internet. There are sites that never mention or bury the fact there is a living creature inside. If you need to buy some please treat them with the respect they deserve.

Trapped larva baking in the hot sun


Ladron de Basura (a.k.a. Junk Thief) said...

We didn't have Thrifty and Discount Drug in the Midwest, but we did have the Mexican Jumping Beans. I don't think my mother ever let me buy them for some inane reason.

Anonymous said...

You sure sound bummed out about this situation. I'm not sure if the larva suffers from being shipped and sold, perhaps some of them hatch out and come to infest whole new landscapes they never would have found had they been left on the ground.

signsofscience said...

Yes you can buy Mexican jumping beans at We bought some months ago and they are still jumping. They are hilarious!

Anonymous said...

I bought a jumping bean for my son (from the local "Dollar store") as a present, not knowing much about them. I was fascinated listening and watching a whole display of them. But when I got home and started thinking about them, hearing them click away on the sides of their 'cage', I felt uneasy. I discovered that the larvae inside are avoiding the heat/warmth - and that is why they 'jump'. I now think it is cruel to keep them. I researched to find anyone like-minded and found this blog. I think like many mindless, unthinking acts of cruelty to humans and animals, we are hurting these larvae. I get the sense that we are kinda 'torturing' them. That they should stay in their environment to get food when they hatch (the plant is only found in their region) and to be allowed to reproduce. Even if they live for only a few days, that's their business. Let's be humane. Thanks for your blog.

Anonymous said...

Agreed! A sad situation created by humans. After learning more about my aquired jumping beans, I too bagan to feel sad. We are going to keep them cool and watered per research, and hopefully comfortable until hatching...our pets now.

CHINMAYI V S said...

I was very fascinated when I got these beans free after making a purchase in a midwest souvenir shop. I notice they jump around a lot after watering them with a light coat of water. This made me question if I'm being cruel to them. After reading this article I feel very sad for these poor creatures.They should simply be left that I have a few with me, I will care for them like I would care for any other living being. I hope they hatch out and complete their life cycle. One thing I'm curious about though, why is the water making them jump? Do they like or not like being watered? Is it good for them if they are jumping are not jumping? I want to make sure I do things to make them comfortable rather than cause them harm

Unknown said...

So I just had crawl out as there anything I can do to keep him alive?

imnotyourbabygirl said...

Me to I wish someone had replied to this iv tried everything I just keep putting a drop of water in front of him so tiny and he sucks it down then I give more i watered them I’m afraid they are not getting the water and he left his home to try and survive I then thought wtf if he was where he should be he’d have a freaking brand new bean to hurry up and get in but I think he got the short end of the stick on his bean home it seems to be very very hollow like totally no food inside