Jim Brock - The Butterfly Man

Jim P. Brock has been studying butterflies for 40 years. He is the co-author of Butterflies of Southern Arizona (1991). Butterflies of North America (2003) and Field Guide to Caterpillars (2005). Jim specializes in the life histories of butterflies and their foodplants. His photographs have appeared in numerous popular butterfly books and related magazines and scientific articles. In addition to leading tours for WINGS and Sunstreak Tours he currently is surveying and working on the foodplants of the butterflies of Northern Mexico. Past survey work has led him from Southeastern Arizona to Rondonia, Brazil. Two Mexican butterflies have been named after him, one a roadside skipper and the other, a subspecies of the Theona Checkerspot.

Arizona Daily Star Article (see below)
Join a tour led by Jim Brock
Butterflies of North America Book with Kenn Kaufman


Arizona Daily Star logo
Section: Tucson Region
Tucson Area Butterfly Haven
By Anne Minard
Photos by Benjie Sanders

Jim Brock netting a butterfly
Jim Brock, author of a local field guide to butterflies, misses the orange specimen just above his net on
Mount Lemmon. Mount Lemmon is a great spot to see a rainbow of butterflies, especially since the winter rains.

For years, Hank Brodkin was all about birds.

He and his wife, Priscilla, made around 30 trips a year - to northern South America, China, New Guinea and Kenya - just to see new avian species.

Red Spotted Purple Butterfly
A lovely specimen of red spotted purple pauses on the Arizona Trail near Mount Lemmon.

"Of course out of the corner of our collective eyes we became aware of hundreds of beautiful butterflies, but we had no idea what species we were seeing and were too engrossed in birding to pay that much attention," he says.

These days, it's butterflies that make their collective spirit soar.

"Sometimes on our trips, he won't even look at a bird," said Jim Brock, a butterflying pal of the couple. Brock says the Brodkins are part of a growing trend - butterfly watching has attracted thousands of devotees over the past decade or so, many of them converts from the bird-watching world.

Jim Brock holds a pipevine swallowtail
Butterfly enthusiast Jim Brock holds a pipevine swallowtail on Mount Lemmon.
Brock recommends that butterfly seekers visit canyons that hold water, such as Molino Canyon and Madera Canyon.

"It's just a recent transition," he says. "There wasn't even a market for butterfly watching when I quit my job."

That was in 1989, when Brock says he was just an "average Joe" working at a warehouse on the University of Arizona campus. But he wasn't just any average Joe. He and his friends had grown up running around their neighborhood with nets to snare bugs and butterflies. Except for a few teenage years when he had an image to protect, Brock never put his down.

When he did quit his job, he did it on a wing and a prayer - but it wasn't long before his passion caught up with him.

Local bird-tour companies began inviting him to lead side trips for people who wanted to watch butterflies. He eventually started leading butterfly walks at the Tucson Botanical Gardens. He's conducted scientific surveys to document butterfly diversity in Brazil, Mexico and the Coronado National Memorial, south of Sierra Vista on the Mexican border.

Texas Crescent Butterfly
A Texas crescent lingers along the Arizona Trail near the Molino Basin area. Molino Canyon is on the way up to Mount Lemmon.

In 2003, Brock co-authored a field guide called "Butterflies of North America," part of the Kenn Kaufman series. His latest book, "Field Guide to Caterpillars" which he co-authored with Thomas Allen and Jeffrey Glassberg, is due in stores later this month.

Brock says Tucson has been a prime spot to keep his curiosity aloft.

"Within about a two-hour drive from Tucson, 200 to 250 species have been recorded," he says. "That's about a third of the entire U.S. total of butterflies."

He said that's a function of a mild climate and two rainy seasons that favor a diverse community of plants - which butterfly caterpillars need. Brock keeps a list of butterfly species that have visited his Tucson yard - more than 80 in a little more than eight years. At their Carr Canyon home in the Huachucas, the Brodkins have a tally of 101.

"That's phenomenal," Brock says. "In a place like Seattle, you're lucky to have a yard list of 10 in 20 years."

The best thing to do to see butterflies is to head out to a canyon with water in it - like Molino Canyon on the way up Mt. Lemmon, or Madera Canyon east of Green Valley. Close-focusing binoculars, slightly different from the longer-range birding binoculars, are available at most sporting goods stores and can range in price from about $90 to $1,000, depending on the power and other features.

Brock says even armchair adventurers can enjoy butterflying - sitting quietly allows a person to watch, for example, a female butterfly fluttering in a focused search for the specific plant on which to lay her eggs.

"Sometimes you can see just as many butterflies sitting in a lounge chair," he says.

Heck - if you want, you can stay home, and bring the butterflies to you. Another of Brock's books, "Desert Butterfly Gardening," is available for a few dollars in the gift shop of the Tucson Botanical Gardens or through the Arizona Native Plant Society in Tucson. It teaches readers how to plant yards that will attract a rainbow of butterflies.



Contact Jim Brock