Late scientist’s work culminates in new butterfly guide

From the cover of “Butterflies of Alaska: A Field Guide” by Kenelm W. Philip and Clifford D. Ferris. UAF photo.
From the cover of “Butterflies of Alaska: A Field Guide” by Kenelm W. Philip and Clifford D. Ferris. UAF photo.

A new butterfly guide is out. It identifies thousands of species across Alaska, eastern Russia and western Canada. The guide also reflects the collaborative work of hundreds of scientists and amateur collectors.

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Ken Philip was a world renowned Fairbanks butterfly expert, or lepidopterist, who passed away almost two years ago. He left behind a collection totaling more than 100,000 specimens. He also left unrealized his dream of producing a comprehensive guide to Alaska’s butterflies and moths. Derek Sikes, a researcher and curator of University of Alaska’s Museum of the North, says friends and colleagues have stepped in to realize Philip’s dream. He says that collaborative approach is in keeping with the cadre of volunteers Philip developed in some 50 years of research.

“He had a team of between 400 to 600 people called the Alaska Lepidopterist Survey, and over the decades Ken was working, they’d send in specimens from all around the state,” Sikes says.

Sikes says the team is still active, and Philip’s family has established an endowment to support further research. It also helped fund the new guide. He says guides are invaluable tools for amateurs and scientists alike, especially as conditions in the north shift.

“We have this historical data, and now we can continue to monitor these beautiful creatures into the future and see how they change… hopefully not for the worse — but at least we’ll be able to pay attention to them.”

Sikes says while the bulk of Philip’s collection is headed to the Smithsonian Institution, the guide and UAF funded awards for research insure Philip’s legacy continues.

“Butterflies of Alaska: A Field Guide” is available for purchase online or at Gulliver’s bookshop in Fairbanks.