Live@Lanier: Adventures of a lepidopteran conservationist

Published 3:42 pm Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Despite an encounter with an army ant swarm, Dave Ahrenholz, MD, FACS, returns repeatedly to the remote nooks of the lepidopteran world of butterflies and moths. The hostility of a rainforest tribe with machetes, accusing him of being a headhunter, has also been of no deterrence.

When vacationing far from the severely burned patients and sterile operating rooms of his surgical career, Dr. Ahrenholz has frequently been on a mission as a Smithsonian entomology research associate. With camera in hand he has sought to identify and photograph all that he could, adding to the list of rare or unknown species that he has already found.

Now retired as co-director of the Regions Hospital Burn Center in St. Paul, Minn., he and his wife live in Landrum, but his exotic adventures as a lepidopteran conservationist continue. He recently returned from an Ecuadorian expedition and will share at Lanier Library his photography and insights into butterfly conservation.

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Currently specializing in gathering data on Riodinidae or Metalmark butterflies, Dr. Ahrenholz has been working with INEFAN (Instituto Ecuatoriano Forestal y de Areas Naturales) to help document butterfly biogeography and behavior. A book with his work on Ecuadorian Metalmarks is in preparation for publishing by the Smithsonian. His other photographs have already illustrated dozens of works, including 68 images in the Audubon Field Guide to North American Butterflies.

Using an alliterative term he probably coined, Dr. Ahrenholz gives a few reasons for his passion: “Butterflies are our most beautiful biomarkers of biodiversity. Fragile creatures of the air…pollinators of many plants, a food source for many birds, a fascinating indicator of environmental well-being.”

To read more about Dr. Ahrenholz, see the July issue of Life in Our Foothills magazine. To meet this discoverer of the Smithsonian’s new genus, Ahrenholzia pimpillala, venture out on Tuesday, July 18, for Live@Lanier at noon, 72 Chestnut Street, Tryon.

– article submitted by Vincent Verrecchio