How one man repopulated San Francisco with a locally rare butterfly species by using his backyard

Tim Wong, a San Francisco aquatic biologist, helped repopulate his city with a locally rare butterfly species by breeding them in his backyard.

Saving the butterflies: San Francisco was once the home of the California pipevine swallowtail (Battus philenor hirsuta), a butterfly species known for its majestic blue color, Bright Side reported. The species was ultimately driven out of its natural habitat in the early 20th century as more areas in the city began to develop.


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  • Wong, an aquatic biologist at the California Academy of Sciences, made it his mission to save the species by repopulating the butterflies in a greenhouse he made inside his backyard and bringing them to the San Francisco Botanical Garden, where he still works as a volunteer.

  • Each year since 2012, we’ve seen more butterflies surviving in the garden, flying around, laying eggs, successfully pupating and emerge the following year," he told Vox in 2017. “That’s a good sign that our efforts are working!"


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  • Wong, who graduated from the University of California San Diego with a degree in environmental science, started by catching 20 caterpillars from private properties with the permission of their owners.

  • In his research, Wong discovered that the caterpillar form of the butterfly only eats California pipevine (Aristolochia californica), “an equivalently rare flora in the city.”. He also found that the plant was abundant in the botanical garden, and those in charge let him retrieve some clippings of the flora.

  • While the butterflies are a rare sight in the city, they can still be found outside the city, especially in highly vegetated areas.


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  • While some butterflies can live for as long as nine months to a year, the average lifespan of the majestic insect ranges from two to four weeks, Science Focus reported.

Other details: Wong first became interested in the creatures when his kindergarten class raised Painted Lady butterflies, he told the San Francisco Chronicle in 2016. He was particularly fascinated by the metamorphosis of the insects from larva to adult butterfly.

  • I’ve been working with native butterflies for over 20 years, and it’s really been a passion and hobby of mine,” he said. “It really all started with that experience.”

  • Although Wong is particularly fond of butterflies, he also works with other animals at the California Academy of Sciences, such as penguins, reptiles and amphibians. He and 10 other biologists are also in charge of looking after a wide variety of butterfly species at the academy’s Osher Rainforest habitat, SFGate reported.

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