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The Tarantula Scientist
written by Sy Montgomery
photographs by Nic Bishop


2005 Robert F. Sibert Informational Honor Book


About the Book

What has yellow blood, silk of steel, and skeletons on the outside? These amazing attributes don't belong to comic book characters or alien life forms, but to Earth's biggest and hairiest spiders: tarantulas! It is with great excitement that Houghton Mifflin Books for Children is sending you The Tarantula Scientist by the noted wildlife author Sy Montgomery and the accomplished wildlife photographer Nic Bishop. Here you are invited to follow "tarantula scientist" extraordinaire Sam Marshall (he's never been bitten!) as he explores the dense interior of French Guiana, knocking on the doors of tarantula burrows in search of these hairy masters of the rainforest floor.

You will also visit the amazing spider lab at Hiram College, founded and run by Sam Marshall. It is the largest comparative spider laboratory in America and home to some 500 live spiders. Neatly stacked in towers of shoeboxes and plastic containers, these fascinating creatures wait patiently to dazzle scientists with their as yet to be discovered secrets.

The Tarantula Scientist is the latest title in Houghton Mifflin's nonfiction series Scientists in the Field, the inaugural publication of which was launched with another joint creative effort by Sy and Nic, The Snake Scientist. To research this most ancient group of spiders (tarantulas have been around for 150 million years), the pair traveled to the remote tarantula capital of the world, French Guiana, where they braved 90-degree heat, 99 percent humidity, and angry wasps.


About the Authors

Sy Montgomery is an author, naturalist, newspaper columnist, documentary scriptwriter, and all-around adventurer. She is also an award-winning author of Houghton children's books. Sy resides in New Hampshire with her husband and a menagerie of animal companions.

To research books, films, and articles, Sy Montgomery has been chased by an angry silverback gorilla in Zaire and bitten by a vampire bat in Costa Rica. She has worked in a pit crawling with 18,000 snakes in Manitoba and handled a wild tarantula in French Guiana. She has been deftly undressed by an orangutan in Borneo, hunted by a tiger in India, and has swum with piranhas, electric eels, and dolphins in the Amazon.

For her Search for the Golden Moon Bear (Simon and Schuster, October 2002; a children's version of the same title published for grades 4–8 by Houghton Mifflin, 2004), Montgomery undertook her most exciting and dangerous adventure yet. Traveling through the forests of Southeast Asia with Field Museum evolutionary biologist Dr. Gary Galbreath, Montgomery reports on the discovery of a beautiful golden bear previously unknown to science, the scientific equivalent of reporting the world's first white tiger or black panther. Because of its land mines, bandits, and unexploded ordinance, this extraordinary corner of tropical Asia has been largely unexplored by Western scientists for thirty years. But the few scientists who have ventured here have been richly rewarded: no fewer than five new species of large mammals have been discovered in Southeast Asia in the 1990s, including a new two-hundred-pound antelope-like ox; two new species of fanged, barking deer; and a zebra-striped rabbit. On her extensive travels through Cambodia, Laos, and Thailand with her scientist-colleague, Montgomery encounters remote hill tribes, vanishing languages, towering forests, crumbling temples, monks, poachers, heroes, and scholars. Amid a roller coaster of hope and humor, beauty and horror, she writes of astonishing new opportunities for conserving endangered species at a crucial crossroads in the area's often tragic history.

The adult version of Search for the Golden Moon Bear was named one of the top five nonfiction books of the year by Book magazine, honored as one of the Top Ten Science Books of the Year by Booklist and picked as an Editor's Choice by the American Library Association. It won the Outstanding Work of Nonfiction prize at the 2003 New Hampshire Literary Awards.

Montgomery's Journey of the Pink Dolphins: An Amazon Quest (Simon and Schuster, 2000) was a finalist for the Thomas Cook Travel Writing Award, an Amazon.com Editor's Pick for the Top Outdoor and Nature Books of 2000, and one of Belief.net's Top 10 Books of the Year 2000. It is the true story of the author's quest to follow an enigmatic, little-studied species of freshwater dolphin into the heart of the Amazon. Each of her four research expeditions was a journey not only into the world's greatest jungle, but also a trip back into time, and a foray into a mythical, enchanted world where people say the dolphins can turn into people and dance with the men and women on land.

For her book Spell of the Tiger, Montgomery avoided being eaten by her study subjects while living in a mud hut among the most deadly man-eaters in the world. Her work with the tigers and people was the subject of a National Geographic "Explorer" TV documentary filmed in West Bengal, which she scripted and narrated.

Montgomery also developed and scripted the Chris Award-winning documentary Mother Bear Man for National Geographic, a film profiling the lives of three orphaned bear cubs and their unlikely mother–gunsmith Ben Kilham, who raised the cubs as a mother bear would: by spending nine hours a day in the woods with them.

Writing about science, natural history, and conservation for children has become an increasingly important priority for Montgomery. Her first children's book, The Snake Scientist, was honored with a dozen national awards, including an International Reading Association prize. Her second children's book, The Man-Eating Tigers of Sundarbans, was also honored with national recognition, including a Booklist 2001 Editor's Choice, and an Oppenheim Gold Award featured on the Today show. Her third book for children, Encantado: Pink Dolphin of the Amazon, was published by Houghton Mifflin in March 2002 and named to the Outstanding Science Trade Books List by the National Science Teachers Association and the Children's Book Council, among other honors. The Tarantula Scientist, researched in the field in the jungle of French Guiana, was published by Houghton Mifflin in March 2004.

Montgomery's popular nature column for the Boston Globe has been collected into several books, including The Wild Out Your Window: Exploring Nature Near at Hand (published in summer 2002 by Down East books). The author also contributes reports and commentaries for National Public Radio's Living on Earth and writes for magazines in the Unietd States and abroad as well as for Encyclopædia Britannica. Drawing on the six months she spent living in a tent on a wombat preserve studying emus in South Australia, she contributed a chapter to The Nature of Nature: New Essays by America's Finest Writers on Nature. (Published by Harcourt Brace in 1994, the book was a fundraiser for Share Our Strength, an antipoverty organization.) Her work has also been featured in anthologies including The Best Spiritual Writing 1999, Adrenaline 2000: The Year's Best Stories of Adventure and Survival, Sierra Club/UC Books' 2003 anthology, Between Species: Celebrating the Dolphin-Human Bond, and in 2004 Face to Face: Women Writers on Faith, Mysticism and Awakening as well as Milkweed Editions' forthcoming children's anthology from its Stories from Where We Live series, The South Atlantic Coast and Piedmont.

Montgomery lectures all over the United States on conservation topics at zoos, museums, and universities for both adults and children. She is a member of the Board of Trustees of Rainforest Conservation Fund, an adviser to the Center for Tropical Ecology and Conservation at Antioch/New England Institute, and on the advisory board of the New England conservation group, RESTORE: The North Woods. In 2003 she was honored with the Edward Hyde Cox Medal for work which "advances the well-being of animals and acknowledges the power and beauty of the relationship that humans share with them" by the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

Montgomery is a 1979 graduate of Syracuse University, a triple major with dual degrees in magazine journalism from the S. I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, French language and literature, and in psychology from the College of Arts and Sciences. She was awarded an honorary doctor of letters by the University System of New Hampshire Board of Trustees, conferred at the commencement ceremonies at Keene State College in Keene, New Hampshire in May 2004.

She is currently working on a memoir, The Good, Good Pig: My Life with Christopher Hogwood, which will be published by Random House in 2006. She is also organizing expeditions for spring 2005, which include a trip to the cloud forest of Papua, New Guinea, to write on orange and yellow tree-dwelling kangaroos, and another expedition to one of New Zealand's most remote islands for a book on a species of flightless, giant parrots saved from the brink of extinction.

Nic Bishop is the award-winning photographer of The Snake Scientist, the winner of the 2000 IRA Children's Book Award. He lives in Michigan.


Priase for Sy Montgomery

"Equal parts poet and scientist." — New York Times

"Part Indiana Jones, part Emily Dickinson." — Boston Globe

"Sy Montgomery has insight into the Others that every nature writer on this continent envies. I am no exception. Clear, emotionally telling and always right to the point, her accounts of the other forms of life are without peer." — Farley Mowat, author of Never Cry Wolf

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