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The Story Of A Man Who Repopulated Rare Butterfly Species In His Backyard

One of the rarest butterflies and truly natural wonder is the California pipevine swallowtail butterfly. The evolution of this unique creature starts with a small red egg, which slowly turns into huge orange caterpillar and finally after a gestation period which takes up to two years it transforms into iridescent blue beauty. The color will remind you the ocean waves and according to the collectors, these wings are one of the most spectacular in North America.

For many centuries the California pipevine swallowtail has considered San Fransisco to be its home, but due to fast technological development in 20th century, the species started to disappear. Though thanks to the efforts of one man the butterflies are coming back.
Tim Wong is aquatic biologist at the California Academy of Scientists and his day is way different from ours. He is either spending his time with an albino alligator, or taking a swim with Japanese stingrays, Wong is always busy with taking care of one of the 38, 000 animals of the science museum.

What would such a man do in his free time? Definitely something unusual, like raising butterflies, this was the hobby he picked up while being a kid. Back in elementary school Wong’s class used to raise painted lady butterflies at school and the process of magical transformation from caterpillar into adult butterfly captivated Wong.


So later on he started to catch and study any kind of butterflies he could find until he came across the pipevine swallowtail which has suddenly become rare in San Francisco. The mission was obvious – to bring the the butterfly back. While studying the butterfly Wong found out that the only plant the caterpillar eats in this stage is the California pipevine which is actually very rare. But Wong did manage to find it in one of the botanical gardens, who allowed to take few clippings of the plant.


With his own effort- he designed his own butterfly paradise in his backyard. He built a large protected screen enclosure allowing butterflies to mate under outdoor weather conditions, like natural sun and temperature, at the same time it protects them from predators and increases the chances of mating.

Even though In San Francisco the California pipevine butterfly almost disappeared, you could find it outside, where is more vegetation. Once Wong got a permission he took 20 caterpillars from private residences and transferred them to his backyard to the special plants, so they could feed at once.

And then the magical maturation process began. After 3-4 weeks a caterpillar pupates and forms an outer shell and the inside insect either develops into the butterfly or stays up to two years. Usually the butterflies mutate in spring and can live from two to five weeks only.


In this time the female butterfly lies the tiny red eggs on the pipevine plants, Wong collects them and transfers indoors. And from here the whole process starts all over again.

Wong has been successfully growing thousands of butterflies by now and warns that this hobby is not for everyone, it demands deep knowledge of all the species, history and background. But one thing people could definitely do, is to keep nature cleaner and improve it by planting native flora plants and weeding. You can start doing it from your own garden!


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