for National Geographic Today
Entomologist Steven Kutcher is the spider man behind Spider-man.
"He's the guy to call in Hollywood when you need insectshe is the ultimate insect trainer," says Robin Miller, property master for the movie Spider-man.
"I know how to get a cockroach to run across the floor and flip onto its back. I can get cockroaches, beetles and spiders to crawl to a quarter four feet away on cue. I can make bees swarm indoors and I can repair butterfly wings," says Kutcher. He has even made a live wasp fly into an actor's mouth.
"I study insect behavior, and learn what they do and then adapt the behavior to what the director wants," says Kutcher.
Passion for Bugs
Kutcher's love of insects began as a toddler when he collected fireflies in New York. But he was also influenced by very "positive early childhood experiences in nature" when his family would spend summers in the Catskills. "Something about seeing fish, catching butterflies, lit a fire within me," says Kutcher.
Kutcher followed his passion for bugs and studied entomology in college, receiving his BS from the University of California, Davis, and later an MA in biologywith an emphasis on entomology, insect behavior and ecology from the California State University in Long Beach. He had planned to pursue a Ph.D., but when he wasn't accepted at the graduate school of his choice he decided to reevaluate his career options.
One day he received a call from his former academic advisor asking him to baby-sit 3,000 locusts that were to be used for the movie Exorcist 2. Kutcher had to place the locusts wherever they were needed including on the stars Richard Burton and Linda Blair. That was his first job and it has been Hollywood creepy crawlies ever since.
After doing a long survey of movies Kutcher found that about one third of all movies had an insect in it. "I saw immediate job potential," Kutcher says.
Almost 25 years after his first job Kutcher now holds an impressive list of movie, television, music video and commercial credits that include his biggest movie, Arachnophobia, the comedy-thriller in which a California town is overrun with deadly spiders. He also supervised the bug and spider stunts in Alien, Contact, Jurassic Park, Pacific Heights, and Wild Wild West.
"He is a very observant and engaging guy," says Lucinda Strub, a special effects person who worked with Kutcher on Arachnophobia. "One of his main goals is to educate the public about how fascinating and interesting insects are. He is really out to teach people about bugs," says Strub who then rattled off how to sex a spider and clarified that "of course spiders are not bugs, they are arachnids."
Even with his busy filmmaking schedule, Kutcher still finds time to teach once a week at a local community college. He also started the annual Insect Fair at the Los Angeles Arboretum.
The Perfect Match
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