US Mag: Tell us a little bit about yourself. Background, education, your passion…
The ostentatious introduction is that I am an educator, entertainer, award winning film producer, and science evangelist. Really, I’m just a nerd who likes to learn all he can about the universe he lives in.
I started out a bug geek from early childhood. As I grew up though, I forgot all about it. In college I started out as a language major. I spoke, Spanish, Italian, and Japanese. My father is Italian, my mother is Puerto Rican and the Japanese was because I had also been a martial artist since the age of 10. I had fantasies about one day studying martial arts in Japan as a young man.
In my third year as a language major, I had so many languages going through my head that I didn’t know what I was saying to anyone anymore. My Italian teacher would ask me a question and I would answer her in Japanese and not even realize it.
So, I moved on to art for the next two years. I wasn’t very good at it. At the same time I had a job running the reptile section at a pet store. That led me to zoology. I didn’t like zoology because you studied everything and were and expert in nothing. Through zoology I stumbled on to entomology.
That childhood passion came back again and I ended up working for the department for the next 3 years as an undergrad. In my last semester of college, some of us were out for a few beers and someone blurted out, “I want to talk about bugs and get paid to do it.” We all laughed and said, “can you imagine?”
As conversation progressed, we realize that none of us had gone to college to study insects. We had all been those little bug geeks, but we had forgotten about it. We had all stumbled upon entomology by accident.
We said to each other, “can you imagine if someone had just told us in school, we could grow up to do this?” And I could imagine it. I could see it in my head. From then on I couldn’t not see it. The idea obsessed me. That was the birth of Tony’s Creepy Crawly Zoo and the beginning of a 25 year adventure… so far.
US Mag: What is your organization’s mission?
Our mission is to light the world on fire with scientific curiosity. We excite, we educate, and we inspire! We are not the answer to scientific questions, our mission is to inspire them. We use our live insect show as a tool, because insects are everywhere and affect everything. They are almost every child’s first introduction to the natural world. They are abundantly available to everyone who seeks them. Insects are so diverse in form and function that the questions that start with that one subject can lead to every science you can think of. Hence the name, The Gateway Science Project.
Ultimately, our goal is to create a permanent location. An insect/reptile themed natural science park for kids. It will be the kind of place where you can do what we do in the live show all day every day. BUT being indoors is not the natural world, so it will have acres that are botanically designed to attract insects and other wildlife. Acres where you can tell a child, “Here is a net and here is a jar. Now go tell me what you find.”
Those kinds of experiences where you are crawling through the grass or mud, smelling the air, hunting, and exploring are where strong memories are created. Where you develop an intimate relationship to the world you live in and want to know more about it. That is essential to the process of developing a scientific mindset.
US Mag: Can you tell us more about the book, ‘My Science Diary‘?
My Science Diary started as a booklet we gave away to our audiences. The effect our live show, Tony’s Creepy Crawly Zoo, has is that at the end, they always want more. The booklet was meant as a tool to harness that curiosity we inspire into critical thinking skills and potentially much more.
To be honest, when I conceived of it, I thought I was reinventing the wheel. Surely, there had to be something like it already out there. I searched high and low for something like this and couldn’t find anything similar. If it is out there, my apologies, but I didn’t find it.
I wanted to create something that effortlessly allowed anyone to understand that science was something they could be a part of. Children are natural scientists. They begin life with an insane hunger to have their questions answered. They want to know everything. As humans we all start out that way.
This book was designed to begin that journey and develop those curiosities into critical thinking skills. The very first, and the most important, skill a scientist must have is the skill of observation. It is a simple first step that this book naturally develops into habit.
US Mag: What do you want readers to gain from reading this book?
I want those who read this book to realize that science is something that they can be a part of. That science, more than anything, is just a way of thinking. It is a thought process that helps us find true answers. It’s an available tool to everyone at any age.
It is my wish that those who use this book will develop that thought process into habit and have fun while doing it. Those habits, as simple as they are, can develop into a very powerful mind set. A mindset that can one day do something great or at the very least, develop a lifelong love of learning.
US Mag: Do you want to share anything about Creepy Crawly Zoo?
Well, it all started with the Creepy Crawly Zoo. It was an idea that started as a joke over a couple of beers and 25 years later had been seen by over a million kids. The excitement of being able to touch and hold live insects and other arthropods from around the world was huge success. Audiences became wide-eyed screaming maniacs. At every show you could feel the electricity and excitement.
It wasn’t until after 20 years of doing it that I honestly burned out. It had been a love hate relationship with extreme highs and lows for me. All the travel just got to me at one point and I decided to retire my show. I did retire my show for almost two years.
About the time I hit my 40’s I discovered all the documentaries on YouTube. I became a science fanatic and could not absorb enough of it. It wasn’t for any reason other than I loved learning. Around that same time the new COSMOS had come out. COSMOS was just spectacular. I think I’ve seen every episode over 30 times. In that series they did a wonderful job of telling the stories of some of these great scientists. How all of them, just like you and I, were just normal kids. Kids who at some point in their life were inspired to pursue science. These ordinary children went on to make discoveries that changed all of humanity.
Suddenly, something that had been right in front of me became apparent. I thought, “I know those kids! I make those kids!” I had not realized the entire time what my show had actually been accomplishing. This was my contribution to science, future scientists.
Over the next couple years, I started to conceive of a way to do this bigger and better. We are still in the process of getting there, but even without a permanent location the live show, combined with the science diary, has planted seeds in thousands of young minds in just the last couple years.
US Mag: What motivates you to do your best?
Knowing that with every show I do, the next Newton, Einstein or Curie could be sitting in front of me, picking their nose. That what I do that day will make the difference in our future. I may never live to see the results of what I do but I fantasize that one day some scientist that discovered warp drive or made the first light saber will tell of the day that it all started for them and that I will have been there. (Yes, I am a nerd.)
US Mag: At what stage did you decide to become science educator/entertainer?
I have been a science educator since 1995, I just didn’t realize it. On my very first show, I thought to myself, “I’m gonna tell these kids information that I didn’t learn until college.” That first show was my big lesson in reality. You go from college to first grade and you have completely forgotten how much they don’t know. I had forgotten about single file.
I died a slow and miserable death in front of my first group. I was talking about Aristotle and they didn’t know who the Greeks were.
The hands-on part was a huge hit and I was determined to make my part the same. I spent the next two years watching every show kids were into. I wanted to connect, and I did NOT want to be mediocre. I wanted to do it the way I would want it done if I was sitting where they were.
It took time to realize that information wasn’t important at all. Dry information doesn’t change lives at that age, but experiences do. If the experience is positive, then they will want to know more and pursue on their own. If I ruined it, I might kill the subject forever for them. I didn’t want to pass on information anymore, I wanted to light their minds on fire! And that’s what I did for 20 years, and not to boast but I did it well.
It wasn’t until the afore mentioned period in my life when COSMOS came out, that I realized what I had been doing. I was lighting wildfires of curiosity. Curiosity on the most abundant and dominant life form on the planet. (As I said before) Insects are everywhere and affect everything. They are every kids first introduction into the natural world. They are so diverse in form and function that the questions they pursue on that one subject could lead to every science you can think of.
That’s when I realized that I was a science educator, I just didn’t know it.
US Mag: Do you have anything specific that you would like to say to your readers?
Yes. Stay curious your whole life and remember the first two rules of science.
• The first rule of science is: Question everything and demand evidence.
• The second rule of science is: QUESTION EVERYTHING AND DEMAND EVIDENCE!
If that is the only thing you remember from this book, you will still go very far in life.
US Mag: Everybody needs time out. What do you do in your free time?
I am an avid outdoors man. I love to hunt, fish, camp, and stargaze. One of my favorite yearly trips is bow hunting for Elk in Colorado. One of my brothers and I go for two weeks every year. We live in the mountains the whole time, hiking sometimes 6-10 miles a day, uphill, both ways. Cell phones are all but useless and the entire time you are reliant on your own survival skills. I’ve never taken an elk but the two weeks in the mountains, being disconnected, is just soul cleansing.
My wife and I love to travel. We are both history buffs and usually plan our trips around some historical site to visit. One of my favorite trips was to Florence where the renaissance began. To visit the tomb of the Medici and to walk the same streets as Da Vinci, Galileo, Michelangelo… it was inspiring and a little emotional.
I am also an audio book addict.
US Mag: How can people find you and follow online?
• You can start with our website, www.creepycrawlyzoo.com , which has all the information about our live show and the Gateway Science Project.
• Facebook: www.facebook.com/creepycrawlyzoo
• Instagram: www.instagram.com/tonyscreepycrawlyzoo
• Twitter: www.twitter.com/ibugwhisperer