The efforts of Tim Wong, an aquatic biologist, prove that conservation can start in your own garden
The California pipevine swallowtail butterfly is a spectacular sight to behold. The dark blue ombre colors on its wings are a work of art courtesy of Mother Nature. However, a few years ago, the population of this particular species of butterflies was on the decline.
The cost of 20th-century development was that the butterfly slowly began to disappear from San Francisco, California, which had been the home for the butterfly for centuries. The decline was so steep that they had become a rare sight in San Francisco. One man refused to let that be the case. He was determined to repopulate the butterfly and with this simple but effective DIY project.
California Academy of Sciences aquatic biologist, Tim Wong did extensive research about this particular species of butterflies to understand how to successfully bring them back to San Fransisco.
Speaking to Vox he said, "I first was inspired to raise butterflies when I was in elementary school. We raised painted lady butterflies in the classroom, and I was amazed at the complete metamorphosis from caterpillar to adult." Growing up he would catch and study butterflies from the meadow behind his house. It was also when he first learned about the dwindling population of the pipevine swallowtail butterfly.
While his day job involved caring for deep-sea creatures, his free time was spent building a large screen enclosure in his backyard. The idea was to protect the butterflies and to allow them to mate under outdoor environmental conditions which included the natural sun, airflow, and temperature fluctuations. "The specialized enclosure protects the butterflies from some predators, increases mating opportunities, and serves as a study environment to better understand the criteria female butterflies are looking for in their ideal host plant," he said.
The first roadblock in his project was getting a hold of the California pipeline which was the only plant the caterpillars feed on. He was finally able to find the equally rare plant in the San Francisco Botanical Garden. With a few clippings of the plant he was allowed to take, his butterfly paradise was ready to be set-up.
The caterpillars were situated in their new home and were ready to start their metamorphosis. A caterpillar pupates in 3-4 weeks and forms a chrysalis or an outer shell. The insect then liquifies itself inside to develop into a butterfly. This could take anywhere between two weeks, or up to two years, which is known as delayed development or "diapause."
The aquatic biologist managed to introduce thousands of caterpillars to the garden and managed to increase the butterfly population exponentially. "Each year since 2012, we’ve seen more butterflies surviving in the garden, flying around, laying eggs, successfully pupating, and emerge the following year," he stated. "That’s a good sign that our efforts are working!"
It would be an understatement to call it a DIY project since he has managed to single-handedly restore the California pipevine swallowtail butterfly population. "Improving habitat for native fauna is something anyone can do," Wong said. "Conservation and stewardship can start in your very own backyard."