James with his new book. (Photo
by Nella Letezia)
PROSSER, Wash. – The California Sister has “fangs” as a caterpillar that it bares when disturbed. The hardy Coronis Fritillary migrates from 2,000 feet in the Columbia Basin to 8,000 feet in the Cascade Mountains. These are two of the 158 species featured in a new book, “Life Histories of Cascadia Butterflies,” coauthored by Washington State University entomologist David James.
“This is the result of a decade-long effort to rear and photograph all stages of every Pacific Northwest butterfly species,” said James, an associate professor of entomology based at the WSU Irrigated Agriculture Research and Extension Center in Prosser. “Such detailed coverage of a regional butterfly fauna has not been published in North America or Europe, so it’s a unique book.”
In the introduction, the authors explain that among the reasons for writing the book was the need to raise awareness of how human activity has threatened many of the region’s butterfly species. Several are endangered, with more on lists waiting to be added.
“Such listings typically require recovery plans, which in turn may include captive rearing programs,” they wrote. “We cannot protect what we do not understand. We hope this book will increase our understanding of butterfly life histories and that this will lead to more effective preservation programs.”
The book describes and illustrates the immature stages of all but one of the butterfly species found in Washington, northern Oregon, southern British Columbia and the Idaho panhandle. James and Seattle-area naturalist David Nunnallee collected fertile female butterflies and raised individual species from eggs, usually several times, to document and photograph each step of their development, from hatching through larval evolution to pupation and adulthood.
For James, the book represents his lifelong dream to detail butterfly life histories, which started in England in the 1960s when he was 8, rearing butterflies in the family home. He dedicated the book in part to his parents for supporting and encouraging that early fascination.
After receiving his bachelor’s degree in zoology in 1975 from University of Salford in Manchester, England, James immigrated to Australia to work and pursue his doctorate in entomology, which he earned in 1984 from Macquarie University in Sydney. His doctoral research focused on Danaus plexippus, or the Monarch butterfly.
James stayed in Australia for 23 years, serving as a research entomologist for the New South Wales Department of Agriculture before coming to WSU’s research and extension center in Prosser in 1999.
His research centers on biological control to reduce pesticide use in irrigated crops, particularly vineyards. He directs WSU’s Vineyard Beauty with Benefits project, which seeks to use native plants to beautify vineyards – and attract beneficial insects like native bees and butterflies as well as predators for pest control.