The Mountain Man and the Beetle: Robert Redford’s Conservation Legacy Honored

Thursday, September 22 2011

MOSCOW, Idaho – But can it act?

There’s a new beetle on the block, and it goes by Redfordi, for its namesake, actor and conservationist Robert Redford.

The water beetle, discovered in 2007 by University of Idaho and Montana State University researchers, honors Redford and one of his pivotal roles, the mountain man Jeremiah Johnson. The beetles were collected from Jerry Johnson Hot Springs in north central Idaho.

The tiny skiff beetle, Hydroscapha redfordi, is a creature of the Rocky Mountains. It’s tough, too, representing the northernmost record for its family worldwide. Its closest relatives are in southern Idaho. Its most northerly cousin is in France, some 150 miles southward latitudinally.

The team of entomologists that collected the beetle included Crystal A. Maier and Michael A. Ivie of Montana State University and James B. “Ding” Johnson of the University of Idaho. They collaborated with David R. Maddison of Oregon State University in their publication.

Their research on the beetle’s physical features and its genetics led them to describe the beetles as new species. The scientists collected specimens at Jerry Johnson Hot Springs and others nearby that originate in the Selway Bitterroot Wilderness.

The official scientific publication in the Coleopterists Bulletin earlier this year about the new species waxed nearly rhapsodic for scientific tomes in justifying its name. The authors write:

“This species is named in honor of Actor/Conservationist Robert Redford, whose 1972 portrayal of the semi-fictional Jeremiah Johnson in the film of the same name brought attention to the character as well as the beauty of the region. One of us (Michael A. Ivie) was so affected by the film that he chose to spend his life and career in the Rockies.

“The type locality of this species, Jerry Johnson Hot Springs, is named for Redford’s character, but it is Redford’s continuing work to safeguard the wild legacy of the Rocky Mountains that makes this name a fitting tribute.”

Historians say the hot springs was named for an early-day trapper, miner and outdoorsman, who may have influenced Idaho author Vardis Fisher’s novel “Mountain Man.” The book was an inspiration for director Sydney Pollack’s film “Mountain Man.”

Mountain men visited the area decades after the Lewis and Clark Expedition became the first American explorers to cross the Bitterroots on the Lolo Trail in 1805.

And perhaps fitting for the mountain man persona of Jerry Johnson, the beetles may not care much for soap.

“It is important to note that no beetles were collected below ‘bathing pools’ and we suspect that various soaps and oils present where people bathe render the habitat unsuitable for habitation by hydroscaphids,” the scientists wrote.