John Guyton (Faculty)

John Guyton, with a spider resting on his arm, sits at a desk in his office, with insects hanging on his wall.

Although Mississippi State University Associate Extension Professor and Entomologist John Guyton is an unofficial ambassador for the world of science exploration, it’s the other “ambassador” in Guyton’s office that quickly catches the attention of visitors.

“The Ambassador” is a golden knee tarantula that lives in a habitat on Guyton’s desk. Guyton uses the friendly spider to get visitors out of their comfort zones. The Ambassador has been held by thousands of school-age children and university students since being sent to Starkville by one of Guyton’s colleagues.

While growing up in Starkville, Guyton was always fascinated by bugs. His parents would find him sitting over fire ant hills. He rolled logs over to see how many beetles were living underneath. In second grade, he caught a beetle on a camping trip in the Smoky Mountains, brought it back with him to school and demonstrated his classmates that it was strong enough to pull a Coke bottle.

“We live in a buggy world,” Guyton said. “When I was in Scouts, I got the insect life merit badge. I knew right off the bat when I looked at the pamphlets I was going to get that one. I coach it now to scouts and I am working on a new model for 4-H programs with monthly programming for Bug Clubs and a community service project.”

After earning his doctorate, teaching science and working to train future science educators in Kentucky, Guyton became an environmental education specialist for MSU Extension on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. When a colleague asked him to help with the university’s Bug Camp, Guyton felt at home in his first year on staff.

Over 20 years later, Guyton has made MSU’s Bug and Plant Camp a nationally-respected outreach effort among U.S. entomologists. Guyton has given the camp an intensive scientific focus and relies on campers to bring plenty of enthusiasm for learning, which he said has never been a problem.

Many campers go on to become entomologists, either at MSU or a university close to home. As word spread about Guyton’s work with the camp, he was elected president of the Entomological Association of America’s education and outreach committee, just completing his one-year term.

“Parents love what we do because we are giving children things that they can’t get anywhere else,” Guyton said. “They go home knowing more about bugs than parents ever dreamed they could learn.”