Doug Long – Citizen Scientist Extraordinaire

Back in my student days at Kearney State College the Biology Department sent out newsletters to high school Biology teachers. My academic advisor (Dr. Harold Nagel) had an idea to send out solicitations for students/teachers interested in contributing specimens/data on Lepidoptera species. One of the responses we got was from one of Doug Long’s kids. The Long family lived in Holbrook (Furnas county) where Doug had grown up and returned to after attending UNL. By the 1980’s Doug and his brother were operating a local garage/gas station along with selling fertilizer. But Doug had always had an interest in butterflies since childhood and was always on the lookout for anything new.

So after a few phone calls Dr. Nagel arranged for he and I to meet Doug at his house in Holbrook. At that time my knowledge of butterflies was somewhat limited and for Dr. Nagel it was another of the wide ranging variety of topics which were peripheral to his specialty (soils, botany, ecology, et al). In hindsight I guess we probably thought we knew a little more about butterflies than we did. So we “experts” showed up at Doug’s house not really knowing what to expect. We were certainly not prepared for what we encountered. Doug began pulling out Riker mounts full of butterflies that he had collected locally over the years. Some of which these we had never seen in Nebraska before as well as things we considered rare but of which he had dozens of. By the time we left several hours later our heads were spinning. So began a twenty year friendship.

Lets put Doug’s work into perspective. In 1986 Dick Rosche published a set of distribution maps that listed 15 species from Furnas County. That was before we had visited Doug’s house. After that visit Furnas County had 65 species. That was roughly equal to the number of species found in Buffalo county – the county where I resided and with many more observers. So for a while it turned into a friendly competition as to which of us could outdo the other. That was only for a while. By the time we put out a new set of maps in 1993 Doug had Furnas county bumped up to 87 species while we here in Buffalo county trailed with 76. By 2005 that lead had grown to 106 to 85. I used to joke with Doug that every southern stray entering the state had to come through Furnas county and get by him before anyone else had a chance to see it. And it seemed he didn’t miss many. As a lifelong resident he was known to everyone and knew of and had access to every nook and cranny of habitat in the area. If I put him onto a butterfly associated with a certain plant flying at a certain time he almost invariably would find it, often at multiple locations.

Occasionally I had opportunities to collect with Doug. One day we went out to look at a pasture where he had discovered a state record (Polites carus). As we got into his pickup he quizzically asked if that was what I was wearing into the field (jeans, t-shirt, sneakers and cotton socks) which was my usual attire. He never said anything but I could tell he was somewhat amused when I spent the rest of the day in obvious discomfort picking cheatgrass out of my shoes and socks while he emerged unscathed in his leather work boots. That afternoon aside I always enjoyed any time I got to spend with Doug and we bounced ideas and discoveries off each other for 20+ years.

Sadly Doug unexpectedly passed away in January of 2008. His wife Sandy donated his display collection of Riker Mounts to Henry Doorly Zoo and his extensive collection of papered specimens to me. By the time of his passing he had bumped Furnas county up to 110 species. Buffalo County is at 88 species – I guess Doug is giving me a chance to catch up. Furnas county’s 110 species ranks third behind the Pine Ridge counties of Sioux and Dawes which have had the attention of collectors for over a century and ahead of Douglas county with it’s 100 year history of numerous observers.

One humorous anecdote – Dr. Ray Stanford is an avid lepidopterist who for quite some time resided in Denver. His avocation was to find butterflies where they had not previously been found (county records). Ray would map out trips based on areas with a paucity of records. Ray made numerous raids into Nebraska, visiting areas we locals lacked the time or inclination to visit. He once wrote to me that he drove up to the Furnas county line “to see what the Garden of Eden looked like”, took in the view and then left as there were no new butterflies to be discovered there. I never got a chance to tell that to Doug but related that story to his wife Sandy after his passing. She thought that Doug would have gotten a chuckle out of that.

Doug found numerous amazing state records in Furnas county over the years. I’ll be highlighting some of them in upcoming posts. Stay tuned!!

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