Butterflies are probably one of the prettiest insects out there. They have beautiful colors, delicate features, and they don’t sting or bite. Watching butterflies is always a relaxing treat. I love being out in the back garden on a summer’s morning with a cup of coffee watching the butterflies do their thing as the day wears on.
But as pretty as butterflies are, they are also affected by changes to their environment – mainly human activity such as rapid urbanization. In California, many people may not be familiar with the beautiful pipevine swallowtail butterfly which is native to the state. This gorgeous butterfly has unforgettable, iridescent blue wings. Sadly, it’s not as common in the San Francisco Bay Area where it is known to live because of urbanization that has caused its numbers to drop. Because it is starting to get more difficult to spot, people have been concerned for its population.
According to a report by EcoWatch, one aquatic biologist with the Academy of Sciences in California, Tim Wong, decided to do something about the decreasing numbers. His project to restore the butterflies’ numbers began back in 2012 when he started doing research into the California pipevine swallowtail he happened to stumble upon a major concern: besides the disappearing butterflies, it also transpired that their sole food source was also disappearing. That is when he decided to go on a hunt for the plant, which he found in the San Francisco Botanical Garden. According to Wong, the Botanical Garden allowed him to take a few plant clippings for himself.
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That is when he started to propagate the plant at home. Since it is something that the butterflies depend on, he was able to create a little haven in his home for the pipevine swallowtail. After growing the source of food for the pipevine swallowtail, he also created a nice little enclosure for them around the plant using a screen – that way the butterflies are protected from the elements outside. It created a little ecosystem for the butterflies where they could breed and grow their populations. Not only is the airflow, sunlight, and temperature all good for the butterflies, this enclosure that he built also helps to shield the butterflies from predators.
Another surprising plus to this is that the set up has also allowed Wong to further his own research into the insects. He first got his butterflies going by procuring twenty caterpillars from several residences outside of the city. Once he’d carefully gotten them back to his home he released them into their new sanctuary and allowed nature to take its course, so to speak.
After six weeks, the caterpillars had all transformed into the beautiful butterflies. Then, the females later began to lay little red eggs to further the next generation, and so on. The hard work that Wong had put into his butterfly enclosure paid off as he eventually found himself with an overwhelming amount of butterflies. He even got to a point where he had to give away some of the caterpillars to local botanical gardens and such because there was not enough room for them to become butterflies in his enclosure! But he was happy with the conservation results and stated that being a steward of the environment is a simple task that anyone can do from the comfort of their backyard.
He shared his experience with Vox, saying, “Finally, I was able to find this plant in the San Francisco Botanical Garden [in Golden Gate Park]. And they allowed me to take a few clippings of the plant.”
As for his caterpillars, Wong said, “They feed as a little army. They roam around the pipevine plant from leaf to leaf, munching on it as a group.”
Thanks to Wong’s hard work, it turned out that his little army quickly amassed into a big army. And it’s lovely to see someone doing wonderful things to help the environment in some small way.
Anastasia is an American writer and journalist living in Dublin, Ireland. Her Twitter is @AnastasiaArell5.