Bringing Back the Beautiful: A Man’s Remarkable Effort to Repopulate Rare Butterflies

In the bustling city of San Francisco, a rare and captivating sight once graced the skies – the iridescent blue California pipevine swallowtail butterfly.

With their vibrant hues, these butterflies were once a common sight before the 20th century. However, as urban development expanded, these winged wonders began to fade from view.

Watch the video at the end.

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Today, encountering these butterflies is a rarity. But hope is not lost, thanks to Tim Wong, a 28-year-old aquatic biologist at the California Academy of Sciences, who has taken it upon himself to revive this exquisite species in his backyard single-handedly.

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Tim Wong’s dedication to repopulating the California pipevine swallowtail butterflies stems from his deep passion for these creatures since childhood.

Amid his responsibilities caring for thousands of animals at the science museum, Wong devotes his free time to nurturing butterflies and tending to the garden they rely on.

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Wong recalls, “I was first inspired to raise butterflies in elementary school… I was amazed at the complete metamorphosis from caterpillar to adult.”

The journey to bring back these butterflies begins with meticulous research. Wong discovered that the pipevine swallowtail caterpillar solely feeds on the California pipevine plant, a scarce find within the city.

Undeterred, Wong located the elusive San Francisco Botanical Garden plant and obtained clippings to establish a butterfly haven in his backyard.

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Constructing a spacious screened enclosure allowed Wong to create a natural environment where butterflies could thrive.

This enclosure not only shields them from predators but also facilitates mating and provides insights into the preferences of female butterflies for host plants.

Wong’s dedication led him to source 20 caterpillars from private residences outside the city, introducing them to his backyard paradise. Observing their communal feeding habits and nurturing their development, Wong witnessed their transformation into chrysalises.

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The chrysalis stage is a remarkable phase where the caterpillar’s body transforms into a butterfly over weeks or even years, a process known as diapause. Once they emerge, the adult butterflies grace the skies from spring to fall, lasting two to five weeks.

The female butterflies lay eggs on pipevine plants, which Wong carefully supports by collecting and incubating them indoors to protect them from predators.

For years, Wong has consistently repeated this cycle, successfully introducing thousands of caterpillars to the San Francisco Botanical Garden.

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While others have succeeded in repopulating similar butterflies in neighboring areas, Wong’s efforts are a unique accomplishment for San Francisco.

Wong’s inspiring journey underscores the significance of individual actions in conservation. While raising butterflies demands dedication and knowledge, more straightforward contributions include restoring native habitats, planting host plants, and avoiding harmful pesticides.

Wong’s story serves as a beacon of hope, illuminating how a single person’s determination can remarkably impact reviving precious species like the California pipevine swallowtail butterfly.

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