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Japanese Scientists Find Mutant Butterflies Near Fukushima

Japanese scientists have looked at several generations of butterflies near the power plant and found some concerning "abnormalities."

A massive release of radioactive material is never good, but so far it's been hard to evaluate the precise effects of the collapse of the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant on the surrounding environment. But this new study, published in Scientific Reports, is concerning. Japanese scientists have looked at several generations of pale grass blue butterfly populations in the affected area and have found physical mutations and genetic damage. In short: mutant butterflies.

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Camille Parmesan studies the effects of global warming by chasing butterflies. Sounds fanciful, but it is anything but. Her careful field observations of butterfly populations have produced compelling evidence of how climate change has already affected our living planet. In several landmark studies, she has helped pave the way for a body of eye-opening research that has tracked changes in numerous populations of plants and animals.

It all started back in the early 1990s, when Parmesan was a graduate student happily studying the diet of the Edith's checkerspot butterfly (Euphydryas editha). She was drawn into the field by her love of nature and of the butterflies themselves. "You get a feel for the pulse of the species you are working with," Parmesan says, "a kind of intuition about them." Observing checkerspots in the field, Parmesan detected changes in their vulnerable populations and realized that the butterflies could be sensitive indicators of global warming.

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