Sometimes it only takes one person to make a change. In the case of the declining California Pipevine Swallowtails (Battus philenor hirsuta), iridescent blue butterflies, that one person was Tim Wong. In the 20th century, these butterflies were commonly found throughout San Francisco, where Wong now works as an aquatic biologist at the California Academy of Sciences. However, the species began to disappear as development projects disrupted their habitat. Today, they are rarely spotted in the area. Beginning in 2013, Wong decided to build a home for the rare butterflies in his own backyard. He tended to the enclosement diligently and continued to carefully raise, introduce, and monitor the butterflies in what he humbly describes as an “informal conservation effort.” Three years later, the beautiful butterflies have returned. With plans to support them at the SF Botanical Garden’s California Native Garden, it looks like they are here to stay. Continue reading to learn about how one man was able to revive a declining species.Wong works as an aquatic biologist at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco, and his passion for plants and animals go well beyond his work schedule. On his own accord, he has helped revive the California Pipevine Swallowtail Butterfly.
When they are still caterpillars, the California Pipevine Swallowtail feeds on the California pipevine plant. However, these plants are rare in the city. Wong located the plant at the San Francisco Botanical Gardens. With their permission, he took a few clippings home. That’s when he built a ‘large screen enclosure’ for the butterflies where they could develop and mate.
In an interview with Vox, Wong explained that his enclosure doubled as a protected area for the butterflies and as a study environment for him to understand what female butterflies consider an ideal host plant.
In general, host plants provide nourishment and shelter for certain insects. It is also where butterflies lay their eggs.
Wong was able to move 20 caterpillars into his enclosure, where they feed as a group. After about three or four weeks, the caterpillars form a chrysalis, or an outer shell. Then comes the waiting game.
Aren’t they enchanting? Just as Wong has proven, you can improve habitats for native fauna in your own backyard.
We would’ve never guessed that the larva would’ve ever transformed into a vision of cobalt blue.
Change starts with heart and continues with support. All proceeds will go to Tim Wong for use in purchasing garden supplies, butterfly rearing containers, propagation materials, and more.
Here’s another look at the T-shirt. Unfortunately, the live butterflies and caterpillars do not come with your order.