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Just call him Dr. Monarch

Paul Levine returns to a hobby from his youth: collecting butterflies

Posted: October 21, 2012 2:00 a.m.
Updated: October 21, 2012 2:00 a.m.

Paul Levine with a Ulysses butterfly, left, and a green swallowtail butterfly that he procured at a crafts fair.

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When did Dr. Paul Levine get the idea he could catch butterflies as well as the next guy?

Maybe it was the time his older cousin Joel wouldn’t let him go along on a collecting expedition because “I’d only scare the butterflies,” said Levine.

The older boys had failed to catch one butterfly prize, the Monarch.

“Not knowing how hard it was to catch a Monarch butterfly, I saw one on a Zinnia in the front yard of a neighbor … I naively picked it up by its wings and went to Joel to ask him if he wanted this Monarch for his collection,” said Levine, grinning.

Cousin Joel took the Monarch, not at all grateful to his little cousin.

“That was the start of it,” said Levine, “and it grew from there.”

Grew indeed.

Today Levine’s digital photo collection is in the thousands and he no longer collects dead butterflies.

He belongs to several naturalist organizations, and lectures about butterflies throughout the Santa Clarita Valley, including Placerita Canyon Nature Center where his is a docent/naturalist.

Levine belongs to the North American Butterfly Association, the Lorquin Entomologic Society, and the Xerces Society, all groups that deal with insects (the butterfly is an insect) and other invertebrates.

A high point in his youthful butterfly career was the New York State Science Fair. It started when Levine was asked to bring in his butterfly collection by his biology teacher.

“I ended up teaching all the biology class sections on insects,” he said.

With the extensive collection, Levine won the local and district science fairs. But, he got a “left handed compliment” from the state judges when they refused to place his collection.

“They (state science fair judges) said the butterfly collection was impressive, but there is absolutely no way a 10th grader could put together that extensive a collection. But I had been collecting for years. I actually did collect, mount and identify every butterfly — but since there was no way a 10th grader could do that in their minds, I did not even place,” said Levine.

Nevertheless, he kept up his passion for butterflies until three things got in the way — medical school, post-graduate training and Vietnam.

In Vietnam he ran into a collection problem.

“I brought a small portable net. Once I knew where it was safe, I did go out collecting. One day I even collected on the base. My CO spotted me and called me to one side and told me it didn’t really look good,” Levine said.

That stopped his Vietnam collection, “…at least on the base,” said Levine.

Butterflies and war zones didn’t seem to go together, especially when you are a lieutenant and a general medical officer.

“I had the feeling that he would have liked to MedEvac me for psych reasons, but as senior medical officer on the base, I had to sign off on all MedEvacs,” said Levine, a twinkle in his eye.

Medical school also conspired to slow down Levine’s collecting.

“Medical school and post-graduate education occupied me 24/7,” he said. “My call schedule was every other night-every other weekend. I was on Monday, Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday, Tuesday, then Thursday and Friday. If I wasn’t on duty, I was either back at the books or journals looking up something with respect to one of my patients or sleeping.”

Even more intense was his life as a cardiologist. That is when his physician wife, Lucille, “…suggested that I really needed to do something more than just cardiology — that one year, I might want to retire unless I died first with my proverbial boots on.”

His wife suggested he resume his butterfly hobby.

“She was right — and I did — and I am grateful to her for that,” said Levine.

Dr. Lucille Levine passed away in January 2011.

With his wife’s suggestion in mind, Levine continues to collect and educate the public on butterflies while still clinically active at Olive View UCLA Medical Center and Saint Jude Medical, from where he retired in 2010.

In recent years, Levine, a resident of Newhall, has given lectures on butterflies of the SCV to the LA Chapter of North American Butterfly Association, LA County Mountain Recreation Conservation Authority Towsley Canyon Nature Center and Placerita Canyon Nature docents and summer camp participants.

“I am willing to talk to any group that invites me regarding butterflies, but few know about me, I don’t advertise and I don’t charge,” he said. “It gives me pleasure to get others excited about the natural beauty right here in our back yard.”

To contact Levine email: paul.cele.levine@sbcglobal.net.

lifestyles@the-signal.com

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