Steve Kutcher May Have Butterflies in His Stomach, but His Showbiz Bugs Never Miss a Cue

updated 04/16/1990 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 04/16/1990 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Steven Kutcher deals in livestock. Very small livestock. As Hollywood's top bug wrangler, Kutcher is the man to call when, say, you want a tarantula to do a crawl-on part. One of Kutcher's tarantulas was hired to walk from ankle to cleavage on an all-but-nude young woman in the best-forgotten movie The Lost Empire. No problem. "Spiders like to climb uphill, and this lady was all uphill," says the veteran insect trainer.

These days, Kutcher, 46, has a full-time job on the set of Arachnophobia, a creature feature due this summer from Steven Spielberg that includes more Kutcher-tutored tarantulas. In one scene, a furry spider even sashays across a floor before popping neatly into a shoe.

It was in 1973, while completing his master's thesis on milkweed bugs at Cal State, Long Beach, that the New York City-born entomologist got his first big break in showbuzz: He was hired to handle 3,000 locusts for Exorcist II. Since then, he has provided ants for TVs Wonderwoman, butterflies for a Nicholas Roeg film, Cold Heaven, and the wasp that crawled on Farrah Fawcett's thigh in Extremities He also wrangled a butterfly for a Hewlett-Packard computer ad and got a cockroach to walk a straight line in an Orkin pest-control commercial.

Often, Kutcher's toughest task is calming the fears of skittish humans. None of them, he claims, has ever been bitten or stung by one of his charges, so he has never carried any insurance. But he does take sensible precautions. He caps the tails of scorpions with transparent plastic, clips stingers and mandibles off bees and wasps and employs only the most docile tarantulas for his spider work.

Recently divorced from Laurie, his wife of eight years, Kutcher concedes that getting lady friends to visit his cramped two-bedroom home in Pasadena, Calif, may be a problem. Containers full of live insects line his bookshelves. The refrigerator holds a box of ladybugs and glass tubes of butterflies. Then there's Dolores the tarantula, who breakfasts on crickets at the dining room table as Kutcher drinks his coffee from a bug-decorated cup. His garden, planted in such insect delectables as broccoli, milkweed and cabbage, is happily bug infested. Kutcher may be the bug world's first recycler. Says he: "All the things that people try to get rid of—cockroaches, flies, ants, wasps—I turn into money."

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