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For Oxnard Boy, Bug Collecting Is Not Just a Hobby : Insects: James Fujita has been fascinated with the critters since he was 3. Today, at 12, he’s a bona fide authority, lecturing classes and winning awards.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

James Fujita’s fascination with insects began on a sunny spring day when he was 3 years old and ran outside his home to greet a fluttering cloud of butterflies.

“I would catch them and put them in a jar,” James said. “I could do that all day.”

Today, the sixth-grader at Oxnard’s Rose Avenue School has become a genuine authority on bugs, lecturing in classrooms from preschool to college throughout Ventura County.

He has a massive collection of insects, both dead and alive. And his talks around the county range from lectures on insect anatomy to collecting techniques and the values of bugs in society.

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“James is an outstanding teacher and speaker who manages to keep a classroom really enthralled (with) his presentation,” said Anne Benson, a coordinator with the Oxnard Elementary School District for gifted and talented education.

For a 12-year-old, James’ accomplishments are many. Just three months ago, he was named the 1993 Young Entomologist of the Year by the Los Angeles chapter of the international Lorquin Entomological Society.

He has also worked with professional organizations including the Insect Zoo of the Los Angeles County Natural History Museum, and has documented insects for the states of Arizona and California.

A death-head moth--similar to those collected by the serial killer in “Silence of the Lambs"--is part of James’ enormous bug collection. The family’s home is decorated with brown-orange cockroaches collected in Hawaii, and exotic spiders and moths. He also boasts a type of cricket, never identified before, that was destroying strawberries at Oxnard farms.

But James’ many achievements are not all in entomology.

Throughout the family’s home, certificates for his outstanding achievements in math and reading are displayed.

James also has a love for literature. Of the books in his library, James said he loves to read children’s novels, particularly Beverly Cleary’s books.

Although he could be in a high school-level class, James said he wants to stay with his peers, a desire that his parents share.

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James’ teachers have recommended several times that he skip grades. But his parents, who themselves are high school teachers, have refused to push their only child.

“We don’t want to rob him of his childhood,” David Fujita said. “You can only goof off once.”

The Fujitas said they have supported James’ interest in insects by buying him books and taking him to museums.

James’ first book on insects took the place of a teddy bear, his mother said.

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“He used to sleep with his bug book,” Carol Fujita said. “He was only 3 years old.”

James said he decided to study insects so he could learn about their habits. After the butterflies, James found a potato bug, which bit him.

“I did not know it would bite me. So I began to observe them and learn about their behavior,” he said. “That’s how it started.”

His involvement with entomology, or the study of insects, has continued ever since. He has helped in the inventory of insects at nine Nature Conservancy preserves. He has helped farmers in Ventura County identify insects and has donated insects to Los Angeles County’s Natural History Museum and the Santa Barbara Natural History Museum.

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Those who know James say his motivation and perseverance distinguish him from other children.

“He sets his own standards,” said his teacher, Jerry Schuler. “He does not need any pushing, prodding or cajoling.”

Other teachers agreed.

“A lot of kids develop a passion for something, but then they get involved with something else,” Benson said. “But James has stuck with his interest.”

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Teachers like having James speaking to their classes not only because of his knowledge, but also because of his enthusiasm.

“He shows the kids how much he loves to learn and that is important for the students,” said Joanne Black, Hueneme High School principal.

In the past nine years, bug hunting has become the Fujita family vacation activity. His parents have taken James insect hunting both in the United States and abroad. They have gone bug hunting in Japan and hope to get permission to collect insects in the Costa Rica rain forest in June.

The Fujitas have spent more than $5,000 on James’ mini-zoo, but it is an activity that they all enjoy.

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“We have a lot of fun,” said David Fujita, recalling the time when the three of them ran through people’s back yards in Hawaii chasing a butterfly.

The chase began after James spotted a white monarch butterfly on Hawaii’s main island. “That type of butterfly had been found only on Oahu. So I was really excited,” James said.

After a three-mile chase, they caught the butterfly, which is now part of James’ collection.

In addition to tennis shoes, sleeping bags and hats, the Fujitas’ traveling gear includes nets, jars and a generator. “We use the generator lights to attract insects at night,” David Fujita said. Besides hands-on experience, James has acquired much of his expertise through books. An avid reader, James returned all of his Toys R Us presents one Christmas to the store and used the money to buy books, his father said.

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“I have a lot of fun reading and I learn a lot,” James said.

James has also learned about people from observing insects. “I learned teamwork from the leaf-cutter ants,” he said.

After they collect tiny pieces of leaves, the older ants hold the baby ants in their jaws so the babies can spit a kind of glue-like substance that attaches the pieces of leaves together. They use the attached leaves to grow their food, a kind of fungus, James explained.

“It’s kind of cool,” he said. “Insects have interesting habits.”

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But James is not the quiet and studious kid that one may expect.

“He is not an aloof kid who just spends a lot of time studying,” Schuler said. “He has a lot of friends and it is easy to talk to him.”

Playing the piano and swimming are some of James’ other interests. Lately, he began to lift weights. “I am trying to get in better shape,” he said.

A polite and friendly child, James said he has not experienced any pressure from his classmates and friends.

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“My friends show a lot of support,” James said. “Often, they come back from a trip with bugs for me.”

But does this young scientist want to be an entomologist when he grows up?

“Not necessarily,” he said. “There are many possibilities, and I will play it by ear.”


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