Steve Amos has a passion for the wild life. And by wild life, we don't mean drinking parties or tailgate slumming at sporting events. By wild life we mean wildlife.
Amos, a Vermont psychobiologist, became interested in all things wild, especially the behavior of birds and reptiles, while an exceptional student at Hiram College in Ohio. He convinced his department chairman to create his own unique academic major-a field he calls psychobiology.
Now Amos travels around the state with his carefully tended animal companions, including Jake the Snake, a nine-foot long, red-tailed boa constrictor from South America.
"Kids love him," Amos said.
The biologist is very mindful as his role as the wild animal's guardian, not master. So, he treats Jake with humane respect and care while handling.
The wildlife expert appeared at the Mt. Holly Public Library in Belmont last week for a fascinating family program about reptiles. However, the star of the library show wasn't Amos-it was Jake.
"Jake the Snake loves company," he told attendees when he and Jake greeted them at the library. "He's just waiting for the chance to visit with you."
Amos formed his own Vermont-based natural science project a few years ago. Called Amos Natural Science Education Service, Amos uses digital slides, various bio specimens, and some readings to introduce audiences to the wonderful world biology and and animal behavior.
Amos said he receives similar questions about Jake the boa constrictor wherever he lectures-"How long can they live? What is Jake's primary sense? Where does Jake's tail actually begin and end? What kinds of snakes are found in Vermont?"
After a brief introduction, Amos removed Jake the Snake from his mobile lair for all to examination-up close.
"You can hold Jake, if you wish," he told several children. And as if on cue, several fearless children took him up on the offer. And by the looks of it, Jake definitely enjoyed the attention.
As a naturalist, biologist, curator, teacher, and author, Amos lives the life most of us only dream about.
He grew up with biologist father and was introduced to the wild world of nature and animals at a very early age. As a youngster, he spent a year studying wildlife in Hawaii when his father was on a teaching sabbatical.
"During my college years at Hiram College, where I received a degree in psychobiology with an emphasis on animal behavior and a minor in studio art, I was student director for the college's biological field station," he said.
By Amos' own reckoning, he has over 25 years of professional experience in the natural sciences.
"For 11 years I worked as senior keeper of birds at the Baltimore Zoo in Maryland and curator of the tropical rainforest and North Atlantic seabirds exhibits at the National Aquarium in Baltimore. I performed research on the dietary and reproductive habits of waterfowl, puffins, tropical birds, and poison dart frogs, among other species," he said.
Amos is best known to Vermonters as the former curator of and lead educator at the Fairbanks Museum and Planetarium in St. Johnsbury. Visitors to the museum often met Amos and enjoyed his presentations about wildlife.
In 1997, Amos headed up a research team in the Andes Mountains of Patagonia to study the local fauna. That exotic study was just one more facet of an impressive career-oriented itinerary-he has explored the Amazon basin, coastal and inland Belize, various Caribbean islands, both Costa Rica's Atlantic and Pacific coasts, Europe, evolutionist Charles Darwin's famous Galapagos Islands, the volcanic eco-systems of Hawaii and Iceland, England's Jersey Islands, remote Patagonia, steamy Suriname, and leech-infested Venezuela.
In addition to his travels around Vermont with Jake the Snake, Amos does after-school programs here and leads nature-study trips to exotic locales-many geared for adult and high school student groups.
After, Amos' Mt. Holly Public Library presentation, he packed up Jake in his travel cage and headed for the parking lot. His next stop-another Vermont library presentation with Jake the Snake.
"Well, I sure put a lot of mileage on my car," Amos said, "but I do this full-time now; it's my livelihood. It's rewarding work because I enjoy sharing my love of biology with Vermonters of all ages. I especially hope to inspire boys and girls to get interested in the natural environment as well as to consider careers in science. In Vermont we're very lucky; we're surrounded by nature."
Finally, what does Amos like to do for relaxation?
"Well, I like bird-watching, perennial gardening, nature photography, and collecting political memorabilia-it can't all be about natural science," he said.