Derham Giuliani, keen naturalist, entomologist and animal behaviorist, died at his home in Big Pine on Sept. 7 at the age of 79. He died of cancer that had traveled to his bones, but was hiking, observing nature, and visiting friends up to three weeks before his death. Derham was cared for, up to his death, by a dear, old friend and neighbor. Most of Derham’s friends did not know he was ill and all deeply mourn the passing of a truly unique and gentle-spirited person.
Derham was born in San Francisco in 1931 and his earliest memory was watching a trail of ants. This fascination with insects only grew and by the age of 12, he was already a serious and avid “bug” scholar, visiting all the windy, foggy hills and sandy dunes of the Bay Area to find and document the wild, rare and interesting life forms there. Derham studied Mathematics in college and became entranced by the patterns found in it, but the studies kept him indoors too much. During this time, Derham took over the care of several ringtail cats, wild desert animals. He found observing and studying these animals’ behaviors so entertaining that he got rid of his television and watched them all night. He decided to follow his deepest interests and live a simple life in terms of material goods and family connections.
Derham found himself drawn like a magnet to the Eastern Sierra so he relocated to Big Pine in the early 1960s. He lived there for well over 40 years, welcomed on the land of Enid Larsen, a retired schoolteacher and amateur “chipmunkologist.” Enid was very impressed by Derham’s commitment to nature and, at her death, stipulated that he could stay in his little house on her land rent-free for the rest of his life. He studied and lived on small research grants the rest of his life. Giuliani spent nearly 40 years, two days a week, observing and keeping a census of chipmunks in the White Mountains. A retired zoologist from UC who was considered the foremost expert in alpine chipmunks remarked in an interview, “Derham Giuliani knows more about these chipmunks and squirrels than anybody else in the world. Period. He is a remarkable individual.” Clambering up every watered canyon in the Eastern Sierra, Derham performed the fieldwork for a UC native salamander study for several years. He often chuckled about the fact that, in this study, he had walked the equivalent elevation gain of sea level to Mt. Everest five times.
Derham also accomplished much field study about insects from coast, to deserts, to alpine zones. His expert contributions are noted in several major natural history books, including “The Natural History of the Inyo-White Range” and “The Butterflies of California.” Giuliani had at least three species named after him due his discovery of insects: a beetle, Microedus giulianii, a winter moth, Tescalsia giulianiata, and a spider, Xenochelifer derhami.
“Thanks to Derham Giuliani, we know a lot more about animals, patterns, wonderment, joy and awe,” said a dear friend. “I hope in your mind’s eye you may ‘catch sight of the loose-jointed cat man flapping by in his untied tennies and butterfly net’ and mirror his reverence for the Earth.”
Anyone who would like to celebrate Derham’s life work may donate to the Friends of the Inyo at 699 W. Line St., Suite A, Bishop, CA 93514.