It is a commonly held belief that one person can’t make much of a difference when it comes to helping the environment. But Tim Wong, who single-handedly repopulated a butterfly species by raising caterpillars and sneaking them into his local botanical garden, has proven otherwise.
By trade, Wong is an aquatic biologist at the California Academy of Sciences, which means he’s no stranger to caring for animals. Outside of work, his passion is raising butterflies.
When Wong found out that the California pipevine swallowtail butterfly — known for its beautiful blue hue — was becoming increasingly rare in San Francisco, he made it his personal mission to bring them back to the city.
One reason for the decrease in pipevine swallowtails was that they only liked to feed on one plant: the California pipevine. The only place he could find the rare plant within the city was at the San Francisco Botanic Garden.
Undeterred, Wong got permission from the garden to take some clippings from one of their plants and used them to create a butterfly paradise in his own backyard, with a large screen to protect the butterflies from predators.
“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 told Vox.
Once he has hatched a crop of new pipevine swallowtail caterpillars, Wong brings them back to the San Francisco Botanic Garden to feast on California pipevine and mature into beautiful butterflies.
Of course, as a biologist, Wong cautions that regenerating a native species requires “a special understanding of each species’ natural history, a natural sensibility, and a lot of tedious work,” meaning it “isn’t for everyone.”
But although Wong has the skill, experience, and time to undertake his butterfly-saving efforts solo, he says that anyone can pitch in simply by growing the native plants that butterflies in your area are attracted to and like to eat – even a potted plant on your balcony can attract and support their populations.
“Improving habitat for native fauna is something anyone can do,” he told Vox. “Conservation and stewardship can start in your very own backyard.”
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