Table of Contents
At home with animals
Jeff often found animals—like frogs, turtles, and snakes—while he was out exploring. So he brought these animals home with him to study and learn about them. He and his parents built cages and kept them for a short period of time. While he housed these animals, he learned a lot about biology from studying and observing. But Jeff’s parents had a strict rule that after a few weeks, all critters must be released back to exactly the place where they were found. These animals belonged in the wild, and while it was okay for Jeff to watch them for a short time, they weren’t pets.
Jeff’s bedroom in Norwell quickly filled with aquariums, terrariums, and cages. Different types of snakes, lizards, reptiles, spiders, and bugs lived in each one. But his bedroom wasn’t the only place these animals would occupy. Jeff would fill the toilet bowl with salamanders, scaring off guests who went to use the bathroom!
READ ALL THE JEFF CORWIN BOOKS!
A Wild Life:
The Authorized Biography
Animals and Habitats of the United States
Junior Explorer Book 1:
Your Backyard Is Wild
Junior Explorer Book 2:
The Great Alaska Adventure!
With special thanks to Danielle Denega
Published by the Penguin Group
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Published by Puffin Books, a division of Penguin Young Readers Group, 2009
Copyright © Jeff Corwin, 2009
All rights reserved
THE LIBRARY OF CONGRESS HAS CATALOGED THE PUFFIN CHILDREN’S BOOK EDITION AS FOLLOWS:
Jeff Corwin : a wild life : the authorized biography / Jeff Corwin.
eISBN : 978-1-101-13629-4
[1. Corwin, Jeff—Juvenile literature. 2. Biologist—United States—Biography—Juvenile literature.
3. Herpetologists—United States—Biography—Juvenile literature.] I. Title.
The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume
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A note from Jeff Corwin
As far as I’m concerned, there’s nothing more exciting than studying wildlife and exploring the natural world, and helping others to learn more about them. That’s why I think I have the best job in the world. But I didn’t always know what I wanted to do, and it wasn’t always easy getting to where I am today.
This biography will give you a peek at what my life was like growing up, and how I turned my love for animals into a fulfilling and rewarding career. I hope you enjoy reading it, and that you, too, will come to fully appreciate this wonderful world we live in.
Have you ever had your teeth cleaned by a live shrimp? Jeff Corwin has, and that is just the beginning of the adventures he has had with animals. Jeff Corwin is one of the most celebrated wildlife biologists in the world, and his path there was paved with snakes. Yes, snakes! But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
Jeffrey Scott Corwin was born in Quincy, Massachusetts, on July 11, 1967. Quincy is an urban community located near the big city of Boston. Jeff lived in a three-family row house with his mom, Valerie, his father, Marcy, and his younger sister, Amy.
Jeff began learning about animals when he was just three years old. That was when he was given his first pet—a goat! Jeff’s parents purchased the goat from a farm on Cape Cod. Jeff’s mom named the goat Billy. The Corwin family thought Billy was a Nubian dwarf goat, which are good pets since they are small and weigh only about twenty to thirty pounds. But to everyone’s surprise, Billy grew to be a hundred pounds! That’s because he was actually a billy goat, which gets much larger than a Nubian dwarf goat.
Jeff loved Billy, and Billy was a part of the family. He even appears in family photos from Jeff’s birthday parties. The Corwin family made a pen for Billy the billy goat on the lawn of their house in Quincy. Goats normally live on farms, so the sight of a goat living in the Corwins’ front yard got a lot of attention from the neighbors! Jeff says that local people sometimes still mention Billy, saying, “You guys had that goat!”
Aside from Billy the goat, Jeff had few chances to experience animals in Quincy. Quincy is home to many tall buildings and paved streets, but little wildlife. Jeff had a hunger to explore the natural world and have adventures in it. But Quincy did not offer much opportunity for that. So Jeff had to make his own adventures.
When Jeff was a small child, he built a lean-to fort in the courtyard outside his house. He spent his time searching the neighborhood for wildlife. Jeff looked in the neighbors’ yards and sheds for things like insects and abandoned nests. When he found something, he brought it back to his lean-to retreat. There, Jeff would examine, study, and display his findings. And he’d invite kids from the neighborhood over to have a peek, too. It was like he set up his own little museum!
Jeff’s parents encouraged his interest in wildlife. Jeff’s father, Marcy, loved nature. But he worked a lot, doing many different types of jobs. Marcy did everything from selling homes as a real estate agent to delivering doughnuts. He wanted to make sure there was always enough money with which to support his family. Eventually, Marcy Corwin got a well-paying, stable job as a Boston police officer.
After that, Marcy spent most of his time patrolling Boston’s streets, keeping the city safe. But whenever he had the time, he would share his love of nature with Jeff. Marcy always loved birds and animals, and he was excited when Jeff took an interest in these things as well.
Whenever Marcy had time off from work and other responsibilities, he and Jeff would often head out to the country—to the Blue Hills Reservation area of Massachusetts. The Blue Hills Reservation is a seven-thousand-acre historical and natural area with many different types of animals, plants, and habitats, like forests, marshes, ponds, and meadows. There, father and son looked for local wildlife, like frogs and turtles. Sometimes Jeff and Marcy would take fishing trips. While Jeff loved to fish, he also searched for bugs and turtles on these trips. On other occasions, Jeff and his dad would simply head to a nearby pond at a golf course, where they looked for frogs.
Jeff’s mom, Valerie, worked as a nurse when Jeff was growing up. She was also supportive of Jeff’s love of nature. Valerie allowed him to watch animal-related television shows. When Jeff was a child, Animal Planet and other cable networks that now show nature programming were not around yet. So Jeff watched shows such as
Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom
. He imagined being a part of these shows, exploring the natural history and life of animals.
As Jeff grew up, he loved animals more and more. That is why he treasured visits to the country to see his extended family. The Corwins often spent time at the home of Jeff’s relatives in Holbrook, Massachusetts. Holbrook is a much more rural area than Quincy, so it offered Jeff lots of opportunities to explore nature. It was during one of these trips to Holbrook that Jeff had an important life experience—one that would change him forever.
At the age of six, Jeff was looking through a pile of wood in the yard of his relatives’ house. At the bottom of the woodpile, Jeff spied a coiled-up mass with scales and a flickering tongue. It was a garter snake! Jeff had never seen a snake before. But it was love at first sight. Or, rather, love at first bite.
The creature slithered farther back into the woodpile, out of Jeff’s sight. Jeff panicked. He worried that he might never see it again. So he frantically searched the woodpile for the snake, and was successful in finding it. But this time, Jeff didn’t want to let the snake get away. So he reached down and grabbed the garter. And the snake grabbed Jeff right back. The snake was afraid, and it bit Jeff on the arm!
Jeff ran into the house to find the adults. But the garter snake had sunk its teeth into Jeff and was hanging from his arm! Jeff’s parents and relatives were shocked and scared by the sight before them.
Jeff’s father quickly unclenched the snake’s jaws and pulled it off Jeff’s arm. Jeff’s relative yelled, “Get it out of the house!” But Jeff did not understand what all the fuss was about. He wondered why everyone seemed afraid of the creature. Jeff felt that he had just made an amazing discovery. He did not want the adults to free the snake outdoors. What if he never saw something like it again?
So Jeff told the adults not to release the garter snake. Everyone looked around, confused. Why would Jeff possibly want to keep a
? Jeff replied, “I love it.” Nonetheless, Jeff’s father released the snake in the yard. It needed to go back to its proper home.
Ever since then, Jeff Corwin has been attached to snakes—though not so literally! After the garter snake bit him, Jeff became obsessed with snakes, turtles, frogs, and other reptiles and amphibians. They were all he wanted to read about. So his mom gave Jeff a book about reptiles so he could learn more.
Jeff soon wore the book thin from reading it again and again. He even took it to bed with him! Jeff memorized the pages full of information and studied the photographs, dreaming of actually being in the swamps and seeing the animals up close for himself. He knew that for the rest of his life he wanted nothing more than to be around animals—to study them and experience them. His fascination with animals, particularly snakes, earned him the nickname Snake Boy.