My New Hometown

New College’s Emily Saarinen is Saving Florida Butterflies

The NCF professor continues her research into using genetics to save certain Florida butterfly species from extinction.

By Ilene Denton Photography by Jennifer Soos January 18, 2016 Published in the February 2016 issue of Sarasota Magazine

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Dr. Emily Saarinen joined New College in late 2014 to teach biology and environmental studies, and to continue her research into using genetics to save certain Florida butterfly species from extinction. A New College grad herself (Class of ’99), with a Ph.D. in entomology from the University of Florida, she says, “Butterflies are the canary in a coal mine. When they aren’t doing well, it’s a heads-up that other parts of the environment are suffering.” She and her husband, Justin, also a New College research scientist, have two young children and a chocolate Lab, Aldo, named, of course, after the great environmentalist Aldo Leopold.


“I have yet to meet a person who doesn’t have a childhood memory of a butterfly. As a scientist, I have to be neutral and associated just with the data, but I never want to lose that magic. That’s what inspires me.” 


“Red Bug Slough has a butterfly garden. The Celery Fields is a great place to see butterflies, too, as are Myakka River State Park and Oscar Scherer State Park. Depending on the habitat, you’ll see different types of butterflies.”


“The New College faculty is [diverse] and tight-knit; we learn a lot from each other. With those who study other cultures [for example], we can talk about the importance of insects to those cultures. It’s neat to cross-pollinate between the different disciplines.”


“It’s a great work-life balance here. My family paddleboards at South Lido Park or in front of New College, and we do a lot of bike riding and running. We hope to make a difference by sharing knowledge and solutions, not just highlighting problems. If you care about butterflies, think about the choices you make; lawn pesticides are killing butterflies just like they kill other insects.” 

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