What on earth is a signing zoologist?


By Marilyn Delk


As Lucas Miller’s publicity materials will tell you, a zoologist is someone who studies animals, and you already know what singing is; so that makes a singing zoologist someone who sings songs about animals—and that’s what Lucas Miller did to entertain and inform kindergarten through third grade students in all local school districts last week. And I can tell you that the youngsters were entertained, their teachers were impressed, and Lucas thoroughly appreciated the good times he had in Darke County.

The final presentation of Darke County Center for the Arts’ 2023-2024 Arts In Education series that brings performing artists to our community to present entertaining educational programs for students in all grade levels, Lucas Miller, The Singing Zoologist, has literally been singing the praises of nature for over 30 years. He says that he became fascinated with music and frogs and toads as a child, earned a degree in zoology from Miami University in 1991, and then after college worked on an 80-foot sailboat that took kids on field trips where he’d play sea shanties and sing songs about nature, all leading to a career in which he was thankfully able to combine his love of science with his love of music. After working as the first education director for what is now the Austin Zoo, Lucas started traveling to festivals, libraries, and schools, sharing his love of nature with anyone that would have him, and has happily continued a career connecting young people with science through the arts ever since.

His presentation began by establishing the fact that, regardless of popular misconceptions, snakes are not slimy. Lucas explained that fish, frogs, and salamanders are slimy, but snakes are made of the same stuff as your nails, then went on to inform the students about something else that is not slimy—insects. He focused on America’s favorite insect, the Monarch butterfly, presenting a fascinating lesson on metamorphosis which includes a song in which the youngsters join in to shudder and say “Brrr!” at the mention of cold winters and snow which force the butterflies to “fly, fly, fly down to Mexico,” an action enthusiastically portrayed by the wildly flapping arms of the audience.

Scientific terms were casually dropped into the presentation—larva, chrysalis, proboscis, camouflage, life cycle—and as the discussion continued, references to insectivores, carnivores, and herbivores, as well as omnivores, who will eat “just about anything” were also imade. Seemingly extraneous facts were inserted, adding significant depth to the discussion. Since plants need sunlight, soil, and nutrients to grow and thrive, places where the land and the water meet—called wetlands, which are muddy, stinky places—harbor “lots of living stuff,” including frogs and turtles. A song about living in a wetland provided delightful insight into herons, alligators, and clams, as well as grass and reeds and a creature from the wetlands of South America, the green anaconda.

Lucas pointed out that a skunk’s defense is its stinky spray, while bees have bright colors that scare predators away, and porcupines have quills, an excellent example of an impressively effective defense weapon. An endagered species, the ocelot, was discussed, and then incorporated into a song that asks “how many spots has an ocelot got?” The spots referred to are not the expected “spots on the body,” but instead “spots to live,” which for the vulnerable ocelots are in wooded areas.

So Lucas Miller, along with his guitar and trunk full of puppets augmented by images projected onto a big screen, subtly taught science to unsuspecting students who simply thought that they were seeing a really good show—which they were! The singing zoologist’s songs and stories were also teaching science, sparking imaginations, and perhaps leading students to pursue their own scientific explorations.

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