Mutant Butterflies Born From 2011 Tsunami
 Mutant Butterflies Born From 2011 Tsunami

By Sunisha Jular

Butterflies are known to be important tools in investigating the long-term impacts of environmental changes. So when three reactors of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant seized due to severe damage from the tsunami that hit Japan early last year, radioactive radiation leaked into the air and caused a widespread of mutation and growth abnormalities in butterfly species.

144 samples of adult pale grass blue butterflies were collected from 10 locations in Japan including Fukushima where there were extremely high levels of radiation in the environment. The adult butterflies were still only larvae when the disaster hit Japan. This forced the team of scientists to breed the larvae 1750kms away from the infected area. They then found that most of them had malformed antennae (which are used to seek out mates and explore their environments), dented eyes and stunted wings.

Six months after the tsunami, they again collected adult butterflies from the same 10 sites and it revealed that the Fukushima area showed a mutation rate of more than double that of those found soon after the explosion. Mutations included an unusual increase in the length of legs, antennae and wings. The team concluded that the mutation is a result of the species eating contaminated food as well as from mutations of parents’ genetic material that was passed on to the next generation even though these mutations were not evident in the previous generations’ adult butterflies.

This study is important as it reveals implications for not only biological communities but also humans living in Fukushima over a year after the disaster occurred.

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