A man has repopulated a rare butterfly species in his own backyard after urbanisation has decreased its population.
The pipevine swallowtail of California has striking, iridescent blue-coloured wings, making it one of the most valued and important species that is found in the area of North America.
This stunning butterfly has thrived for centuries in San Francisco and in the so-called Bay Area. However, due to urbanisation during the 1900s this particular butterfly species started disappearing. Nowadays, it is a bit of achievement to have spotted one.
Saddened by this news, Tim Wong who is an aquatic biologist at the Academy of Sciences in California, has made repopulating this species of butterfly his number one priority and mission in life.
In 2012, Tim began to research the pipevine swallowtail and this involved looking at their sole source of food, which is a particular type of plant. Together with this type of butterfly, the plant was also disappearing.
Tim decided to head to the San Fransico Botanical Garden to see if it would be possible to take a few clippings of this plant, as it would be crucial for his project to work. After gaining permission, Tim propagated the plant in his backyard and focused on watering, tending and weeding until he had created the perfect paradise for the California pipevine.
For Tim’s project to be successful, he would need to make a big-screen enclosure that would provide protection for the species from predators and would allow it to mate.
This specialised enclosure also served as an opportunity for Tim to study the environment these insects were living in, which meant he would be able to define what was the ideal host plant for the females.
After the habitat was finished being built, Tim scouted out twenty caterpillars from several residences around the city – with permission. Once they were all collected, Tim carefully transported them to his backyard and set them loose on their new feeding and mating grounds.
After six weeks, the hungry caterpillars had transformed into beautiful butterflies, and the females had laid red, tiny eggs which were laid on the pipevine’s plant stems. So far, Tim’s project was a massive success.
A few generations later, the butterflies had begun to multiply dramatically. This meant that Tim no longer had the space to keep them all. To resolve this minor issue, Tim donated some of the caterpillars to the Botanical Gardens, which is where the food for the species had originated.
Every several months, Tim found that the butterflies would be increasing by the thousands.
Tim said: “Improving the habitat for native fauna is something that anyone can do. Conservation and stewardship can start in your very own backyard.”
Tim isn’t the only one to have success with this type of project. There are conservationists based in Sonoma and Santa Cruz counties that are also trying to repopulate the creature. Yet Tim is the only and primary success based in San Fransico.
In the 1980s, Barbara Deutsh attempted to reintroduce the California pipevine and this resulted in 500 of the species. Unfortunately, this soon declined until they ultimately vanished.
Wong believes that his success is based on the fact that he dedicated a lot of time studying the caterpillars’ habitat, which he then created. Over the last seven years, Tim has produced 200 pipevine plants, without the use of pesticides and herbicides.
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