|If he had not been seduced by his childhood love of collecting living things, Kefyn Catley might still be a professional musician.
As a boy growing up in Wales, Kefyn remembers being "one of those kids who were always poking under stones and looking into walls. I was fascinated by what I found there. I collected beetles, moths, birds' nests, birds' eggs. I had hundreds of birds' eggs, but the bugs were always more important to me.
"I was really, really young--under five--when I got one of those little magnifying things that you can put a bug in and look at it. Then, when I was six or seven, my older sister bought me a microscope, and that was it. I was hooked."
Except, Kefyn told us, he took a rather long detour, and it was nearly 30 years before he came back to his first love.
"I didn't have much of a choice when I was school age. I really wasn't all that good academically at the things that mattered, so I went into music." He studied flute and other woodwind instruments, then got a job playing in a symphony orchestra and teaching.
"After I'd been working as a professional musician for about 20 years, I got to know some people in the neighborhood where I lived who were bug maniacs, just like I had been when I was younger. We started going out every weekend collecting all sorts of bugs, spiders, and stuff, and I found myself spending more time doing that than my music.
"It came to the point that I had to make a decision: Was I going to stay with music as a profession, or was I going to go into science proper, which is what I always wanted to do when I was younger?"
Kefyn chose science.
"I was in my thirties, and it took me ten years to change careers. I had an arts degree and I needed a science degree. That led to a master's, which led to a Ph.D."
Now he is a National Science Foundation Research Fellow working in the Entomology Department at the American Museum of Natural History. His specialty is the identification and classification of Australian ground spiders.
Is he glad he made the change? Kefyn answers with an enthusiastic "Yes!" He never got over his childhood fascination with arthropods, and he is happy to have the chance to study them every day. But it is not a matter of studying "what's out there," he argues.
"Where's out there? It's really here," he insists. "It's not some place you go to look at nature. We're all in this together, all completely interdependent. I think it's important to understand our own position in the world, to get the big picture. And that's something bugs help us do really quickly."
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