One California Man Repopulated A Rare Butterfly Species In The Most Amazing Way

Most of us are DIYers of some sort. We work on our own houses, landscaping or cars motivated by passion and/or a desire to save money.

But have you ever heard of a DIY conservationist? Meet Tim Wong of San Francisco, who has singlehandedly brought a rare and beautiful butterfly back to the Bay Area.

tim wongPhoto via Tim Wong

The California Pipevine Swallowtail is an iridescent blue creature that was once a common summer sight in San Francisco. But 100 years of relentless development largely destroyed the insect’s food source and habitat, forcing it from the city and surrounding suburbs.


Enter Wong, an aquatic biologist by day, butterfly geek by night. Wong has been fascinated by butterflies since elementary school and has raised them for years. When he learned about the plight of the Pipevine Swallowtail, he decided to act.

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Wong studied up on the species and discovered that as a caterpillar it only eats one plant – yep — California Pipevine, which has also become rare in SF. Wong obtained some Pipevine clippings from the city’s botanical gardens and grew 200 plants in his backyard. He put the tempting treats in a screened enclosure to create a butterfly version of the Playboy Mansion – a safe, cushy place to mate.

Now all he needed was Pipevine Swallowtails, which are still common in other parts of California. He gathered 20 caterpillars from private homes well outside the Bay Area and set them lose in his enclosure. It was a hit. The Pipeline Swallowtails gorged on the Pipevine and began their reproductive cycle. Wong gathered the eggs laid by the females and placed them in a special incubator away from spiders and other predators.

butterflyPhoto Courtesy Of Vox.com

The 28-year-old raises the caterpillars that emerge from those eggs and then takes them to the botanical garden where they mature into butterflies.

Wong’s efforts are paying off. Last year he delivered thousands of caterpillars to the botanical gardens. Wong says it’s too early to say the Pipevine Swallowtail is officially back in San Francisco, but he notes that the number of butterflies emerging from cocoons in the botanical gardens unaided has increased every year since 2012.

“That’s a good sign our efforts are working,” he says.

I love this story. It shows that one person can make a difference by applying their passion and talent. We should all remember that next time we hear about a problem or challenge facing our community or world.

Cover Image Via Tim Wong

 

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