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James Pearce's 16000 butterflies donated to the Natural History Museum of Utah

Community and ForumBlogJames Pearce's 16000 butterflies donated to the Natural History Museum of Utah

Lev Bely, 08.05.2012 21:31

James Pearce's love with entomology began in his childhood when he was exploring Mill Creek Canyon with a gossamer net to find butterflies. Then his interest took him to study science and medicine particularly yet he didn't quit collecting butterflies in his Salt Lake City home.

For 60 years Dr. James Pearce gathered an immense butterfly collection of 16000 specimens that were recently donated by his family to the University of Utah where Pearce had worked on the clinical faculty till his very death in 2009.

This collection has been displayed on May 9th just for one day at the Natural History Museum of Utah. Some of these butterflies were already shown in the big Collections Wall exhibit at the Rio Tinto Center, a new museum home. “The legacy of his collection is already splashed two stories tall,” said entomologist Christy Bills, the museum’s invertebrate collections manager.

James' widow Virginia tells that Pearce being terminally ill decided his collection would end up in a museum where it could be appreciated by the public and studied by scientists.

Not only Pearce practised collecting butterflies but he also co-founded the Utah Lepidopterists’ Society. He was one of the first to document the presence of the Indra Swallowtail (Papilio indra) along the Wasatch Front. “Swallowtail was his passion in terms of local butterflies. He knew where the food plants were and which mountains,” Virginia said.

Yet James Pearce was not a professional entomologist he became an expert being truly laborous as to either describing butterflies or keeping specimens in best condition for further studying. He also purchased and traded exotic tropical specimens.

Christy Bills pays special attention to that portion of Pearce's collection what contains butterflies gathered around the valley in 1950's. “His collections provide a snapshot of a portion of the valley’s ecology over the past 50 years,” she said. “Most butterflies are very specialized to what plants they use, sometimes crazy specialized. A certain butterfly indicates what plants there were at the time. We will be able to see what changes have occurred.”

Many specimens of Pearce's collection are from another amateur collector, the late Ken Tidwell. “One of the wonderful things about entomology is it’s accessible to anyone,” Bills said. “You don’t need an electron microscope to do it. Here is a busy doctor and father, and he got really good at it.”

The Salt Lake Tribune, http://www.sltrib.com

Photo: James Pearce demonstrates Morpho cypris butterflies of his collection, http://www.sltrib.com

KSL-TV on James Pearce's butterfly collection at the Natural History Museum of Utah

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