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Photographer's video sheds light on rarely seen transformation

by: SUBMITTED PHOTO: MICHAEL DURHAM - A silverspot butterfly caterpillar in the process of pupating into a chrysalis at the Oregon Zoo's butterfly lab.The Oregon Zoo’s butterfly conservation lab recently released the last of this season’s 1,183 zoo-reared Oregon silverspot butterfly pupae. A dozen pupae (butterfly cocoons) were transported to coastal headlands to complete their transformation and join their wild counterparts.

Once common along the Oregon coast, the Oregon silverspot was reduced to four Oregon populations by the 1990s. The species was listed as threatened by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 1980 — one of two Oregon butterflies listed as threatened or endangered under the U.S. Endangered Species Act.

“They struggle against development, invasive species, vehicles, bad weather, pesticides and natural predators like spiders,” lead keeper Mary Jo Andersen said. “Simply put, the zoo is putting more butterflies into the ecosystem in hopes that they’ll breed with wild butterflies and avoid local extinction.”

Andersen said people can help conserve butterflies in their own neighborhoods by planting native plants and eliminating the use of pesticides.

“Butterflies are the supermodels of the invertebrate world,” Andersen said. “They’re also a gateway invertebrate. People who love butterflies will often find they’re into other insects.”

Since the project commenced in 1999, the Oregon Zoo, in collaboration with Woodland Park Zoo, has released more than 10,000 Oregon silverspot and Taylor’s checkerspot butterflies into Pacific Northwest habitats.

Before the last batch of pupae were sent to their new beachfront home, Oregon Zoo photographer Michael Durham captured what is believed to be the first-ever time-lapse video of a critical moment in the silverspot’s transformation.

Pupation — when a caterpillar transforms into a chrysalis — occurs deep in the undergrowth and is almost never observed.

“What he captured was nothing short of magical,” Andersen said. “When a caterpillar pupates, all of its molecules literally liquefy, and it reformulates as a butterfly. Sometimes you need to have a meltdown in order to change your life.”

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