Month: June 2014

The Tarantula Scientist

Jacket• Grade Range: 5th-10th
• Science related title
• Author: Sy Montgomery, Photographs by Nic Bishop
• Title: The Tarantula Scientist
• Publisher: Boston : Houghton Mifflin Co., 2004.
• 2004
• 80 pages.
• ISBN: 978-0-618-14799-3
Awards: 2005 Robert F. Sibert Honor Book~2004 School Library Journal, Best Books of the Year~2005 Texas Bluebonnet Award~2004 John Burroughs Honor List of Nature Books for Children~2005 National Science Teachers Association and Children’s Book Council~Outstanding Science Trade Book for Children. The book received the further distinction of being noted as a “Selector’s Choice” among these outstanding works for children.~2005 Notable Children’s Book in the Language Arts~2005 Voice of Youth Advocates Nonfiction Honor List consider the top books of the year.
• Author’s website:

In another excellent offering in the Scientist in the Field series, Sy Montgomery and Nic Bishop team up and follow arachnologist Sam Marshall into the rainforest of French Guiana to discover more about tarantulas. The largest of spiders, with a life span of over 30 years, the tarantula is a lot less scary and a lot stranger than you might imagine. They smell with their feet, taste with the hairs on their legs and have their stomach in their head. Tarantulas are the dinosaurs of the spider clan and have been around since before the super-continent Gondwanaland broke up.

Sam Marshall’s infectious fascination with these intriguing creatures comes through clearly. As in the others in the series we learn of break-through discoveries he has made and are introduced to two of his young students back at Hiram College in Ohio, doing their own research in the spider-lab. Marshall and Montgomery make clear science isn’t a body of knowledge, it is a process: as simple as asking a question and then answering it and there are plenty of questions to ask. Very little is known about even glamorous species, such as the Goliath birdeater much less the estimated 70-100 thousand spiders science hasn’t even named yet. This is an excellent offering that reveals how close and accessible the frontier of science really is.

Front matter includes a map of the South American area of study. Back matter updates Sam Marshall’s whereabouts, advises how to handle-or better yet avoid handling tarantulas, guides those who think they might want a tarantula as a pet, offers intriguing spider stats, provides a glossary, a selected bibliography and web resources, discusses research methodology and acknowledges help, and provides contact information for the lodge in French Guiana.