Robert Michael Pyle, Butterflies and The Dark Divide

Butterfly expert Robert "Bob" Michael Pyle, founder of the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, is not only a national award-winning author, a teacher, a public speaker and a conservationist--but now he's on screen.

Well, sort of "on screen." A newly released movie features him and his work.

The Dark Divide chronicles his 1995 journey across one of America's largest undeveloped wildlands, the Gifford Pinchot National Forest. Actor David Cross portrays him.

The plot: "At the urging of his dying wife Thea (Debra Messing), the shy author finds himself in over his head on an epic, life-changing expedition through Washington's Gifford Pinchot National Forest in search of new species of butterflies. Over the course of his six-week adventure, Pyle battles self-doubt, the grueling trail, and the people and creatures who call this forest home. And, somewhere deep in the heart of The Dark Divide, he makes a discovery that challenges everything he knows about the natural world."

You'll have to watch it to see the discovery "that challenges everything."

Pyle, who founded the Xerces Society in 1971, resides in the Columbia River-tributary town of Grays River in southwest Washington.

He draws crowds and questions wherever he goes.

We remember when he toured the Bohart Museum of Entomology, University of California, Davis, in July 2019 with fellow members of the Lepidopterists' Society at their 68th annual meeting.

At the time, Pyle had authored 23 publications, including the comprehensive National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Butterflies, a go-to reference source. Among his other insect-related books: Chasing Monarchs: Migrating with the Butterflies of Passage, which chronicles his 9,000-mile journey to discover the secrets of the monarchs' annual migration. For his book,  Mariposa Road: The First Butterfly Big Year, Pyle sought to track, firsthand, the 800 species of butterflies known in the United States. The book is a result of his 88,000 mile journey.

While touring the Bohart Museum, "Bob," as he prefers to be called, took a special interest in the Magdalena alpine butterfly, an all-black alpine butterfly, considered "the most elusive of several rare and beautiful species found on the mountain."  He featured the butterfly in his book: Magdalena Mountain: A Novel. 

Pyle visited with many of the Bohart crew, including director Lynn Kimsey, UC Davis professor of entomology; senior scientist Steve Heydon; Jeff Smith, curator of the Lepidoptera collection; and Bohart associate and naturalist Greg Kareofelas.

The Bohart Museum houses nearly eight million specimens, including the California State Insect Survey, as well as a live "petting zoo" (Madagascar hissing cockroaches, walking sticks and tarantulas) and a gift shop. It's located in Room 1124 of the Academic Surge Building on Crocker Lane, UC Davis campus, but is temporarily closed due to COVID-19 precautions. More information is available on the website or by contacting or (530) 753-0493.)

(Note: The Dark Divide is showing in some theaters and can be streamed online. Xerces Society supporters can save $5 off the streaming rental. Go to The Dark Divide website, select "Virtual Cinema" and then click on the Xerces Society logo. When you reach the checkout, enter XSDD5 for the $5 discount. )