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By Susan Bird
One person can't make a big difference in the world by himself, right? If you believe that, it's time to adjust your attitude. Tim Wong just proved you wrong. He has successfully begun repopulating a rare butterfly species—and he did it in his spare time, in his backyard.
Instagram / @timtast1c
Wong is an aquatic biologist by trade, employed by the California Academy of Sciences. These days, people are starting to call him the "Butterfly Whisperer." That's not far from the truth. Butterflies are Wong's off-duty passion. He's loved them since he was a boy. When he discovered one particularly beautiful type had essentially disappeared from the San Francisco area, he wanted to do something about it.
The complete life cycle of the California Pipevine Swallowtail in the palm of Wong's hand.Instagram / @timtast1c
The California Pipevine Swallowtail (Battus philenor hirsuta) is native to central California. Once, it was a common and beautiful sight flying gracefully about the San Francisco area, but no more.
The problem is that the California Pipevine Swallowtail is a picky eater and a touchy breeder. As a caterpillar, it really only likes one plant to eat—the equally hard to find California Pipevine, also known as Dutchman's Pipe. As an adult, it only wants to lay its eggs on that same plant. If there aren't any pipevine plants, females fly around looking for them until they die.
Wong needed pipevine plants to have any shot at breeding these butterflies and he had a hard time locating any. Fortunately, he got some valuable assistance.
"Finally, I was able to find this plant in the San Francisco Botanical Garden [in Golden Gate Park]," Wong told Vox. "And they allowed me to take a few clippings of the plant." Wong took those clippings and transplanted them in his own do-it-yourself butterfly spa.
Tim Wong's butterfly enclosure.Instagram / @timtast1c
"[I built] a large screen enclosure to protect the butterflies and to allow them to mate under outdoor environmental conditions—natural sun, airflow, temp fluctuations," Wong told Vox. "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."
Wong found his first 20 candidate caterpillars from private area homes willing to donate them to his effort. He set them free in his butterfly enclosure among his transplanted pipevine plants and let them go on an eating spree.
Watch a news report about Wong and his butterflies here:
Now, Wong said he has 200 pipevine plants. Even better, he said he's bred thousands of Pipevine Swallowtails in his butterfly haven. When they mature, he takes them to the San Francisco Botanical Garden's "California Native" exhibit to live out their lives with food aplenty.
All this is a lot of work. It takes up a great deal of Wong's spare time, but he's a committed man. The hard work is clearly paying off. If you want to keep track of Wong and his efforts, follow him on Instagram at @timtast1c.
If you live in or near San Francisco, consider planting some pipevine plants in your yard. Help Tim Wong get this gorgeous butterfly species to rebound. Wouldn't it be exciting to play a direct part in keeping these lovely little creatures from disappearing from the city forever?
"Improving habitat for native fauna is something anyone can do," Wong told Vox. "Conservation and stewardship can start in your very own backyard."
Hats off to Tim Wong. He saw a need and he stepped up to meet it. One man can make an enormous difference if he puts his heart and soul into that goal. So can you.
Now that you know it's true, what are you waiting for?
This article was reposted with permission from our media associate Care2.
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