A young man helps rare butterflies return to the city by repopulating them in his very own backyard.
The California pipevine swallowtail almost went extinct because of urbanization. To save and reintroduce it to San Francisco, Tim Wong decided to repopulate it in his backyard.
The life cycle of this beautiful butterfly starts with red eggs that they lay in clutches on leaves and stems. The eggs then open and black caterpillars with orange spots emerge.
These caterpillars will eventually turn into breathtaking butterflies with a deep blue color. The California pipevine swallowtail has been living in San Francisco for centuries but they almost disappeared as more and more areas of the city developed.
Wong and his love for nature made him a ‘butterfly whisperer.’ An aquatic biologist at the California Academy of Sciences, he also takes care of the academy’s museum: snakes, owls, lizards, penguins, and of course, butterflies.
His passion for butterflies started in elementary school where he tried to raise them with his classmates. Wong was amazed at their incredible metamorphosis.
When he heard about the sad story of the California pipevine swallowtail, he wanted to try to help them return to the city.
With a DIY greenhouse in his background and plants at the San Francisco Botanical Garden, he recreated the butterfly’s natural environment.
“[I built] a large screen enclosure to protect the butterflies and to allow them to mate under outdoor environmental conditions — natural sun, airflow, temperature fluctuations,” he shared.
Wong started with 20 caterpillars he collected in local residences where they could still be seen. After a while, he managed to bring hundreds of butterflies to their local botanical garden.
His experiment then resulted in thousands of home-bred California pipevine swallowtails that he managed to introduce to the San Francisco Botanical Garden. He also grew over 200 California pipevine plants to make the species feel more at home.
“Each year since 2012, we’ve seen more butterflies surviving in the garden, flying around, laying eggs, successfully pupating, and emerging the following year,” he shared. “That’s a good sign that our efforts are working!”
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