Tony Sohns, a collector of rare minerals and strange creatures whose ability to spot nature’s eccentricities found an outlet in the Rock and Art Shop, a popular set of stores in the Bangor region that he co-founded with his family, died last week while on a business trip to Arizona.
Sohns, a 41-year-old Bucksport native who was known to many as “the Bug Man,” died after a heart attack, according to his obituary.
Friends and family remembered Sohns as a teacher, storyteller and adventurer with an infectious enthusiasm for natural wonders, large and small, living and dead.
Among the many curiosities that Sohns and his family have collected and kept in their stores are the cast of a Tyrannosaurus rex, a taxidermied ostrich, a deformed piglet with eight legs, a giant clam, an electric eel, a rat-eating plant and rocks that turn invisible when placed in water. He also had a pet emu.
As a shop owner and educator, Sohns liked to draw audiences out of their comfort zones, helping them to find wonder and respect for creatures that their guts would tell them are icky.
“I’m very much not a bug person, and Tony very much was a bug person,” said Matt Hochman, a friend of Sohns who co-owns the Trailhead Cafe in Bar Harbor. “He used to have in the shop in Bar Harbor hissing cockroaches. I would go in a lot of times and he would ask if I wanted to get up close with them, knowing how I felt about six-legged friends. He really wanted people to appreciate insects for not being pests or these terrifying multi-legged monsters. He wanted people to know that they’re beneficial.”
From an early age, Sohns collected rocks and bugs while exploring the shores of Silver Lake in Bucksport and going on yearly family camping trips to Baxter State Park, according to his obituary. While studying entomology at Oregon State University, he started Bug Mania, an educational program that he brought to Maine and continued to run.