Normal specimen of Pale Grass Blue Butterfly  Photo credit Wikimedia Commons

A research team from the University of Ryukyus, Okinawa, has been studying Pale Grass Blue Butterflies for over 10 years.   In March of 2011, the time of the disaster, the butterflies in the field were overwintering in their larvae stage.

In May of 2011, two months after the nuclear disaster, scientists gathered 144 samples of the species from 10 different sections of Japan.

Only near the damaged Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant did they find butterflies with severe abnormalities, which researchers traced back to the radiation released from the nuclear power plant.

Mutated specimen gathered two months after 2011 earthquake/tsunami/nuclear disaster  Photo Credit BBC

Joji Otaki, senior author of the study appearing in Scientific Reports, says, “Nature in the Fukushima area has been damaged.  Insects have been considered to be highly resistant to radiation, but this butterfly was not.”

Butterflies gathered six months after the March 11 disaster had more than twice as many abnormalities as did those caught two months following the toxic release.  Researchers concluded that though radiation levels in the environment have declined, the exposure to radiation was still affecting the butterflies’ development.

Butterflies from the sites with the most radiation have the most severe physical abnormalities: infertility, deformed wings, dented eyes, aberrant spot patterns, malformed antennae and legs, and the inability to fight their way out of their cocoons.

Timothy Mousseau, professor of biology at the University of South Carolina, studies the impacts of radiation from Fukushima as well as from the Ukraine’s Chernobyl explosion.  He commented, “It is quite concerning to see accumulated effects occurring over relatively short time periods, less than a year, in Fukushima butterflies. “

More disturbing than the radiation effects on the 144 samples gathered from 10 different regions of Japan are the effects on the samples bred 1100 miles away from Fukushima in the researchers’ lab in Okinawa.

Each successive generation displayed increasingly severe abnormalities, such as forked antennae and asymmetrical wings.

Moreover, butterflies collected from the field in September 2011, six months after the initial May collection, had twice as many members with abnormal structures as did the May specimens.  The September butterflies were fourth-or fifth-generation descendants from the larvae present in May.

Researchers concluded that not only had the butterfly population suffered from radiation sickness, they were exhibiting signs of genetic damage as well.

The first generation passed their genetic mutations to their offspring, who compounded the damage with their own genetic defects acquired from eating radioactive vegetation and from the low levels of radiation remaining in the environment.

Mousseau said the findings are consistent with his previous studies in Japan and at Chernobyl:  “This study adds to the growing evidence that low-dose radiation can lead to significant increases in mutations and deformities in wild animal populations.

“The ecological studies that we have conducted found that the entire butterfly community in Fukushima was depressed in radioactive areas, as were the birds, and that the patterns seen in Fukushima were similar to what has been observed in Chernobyl.

“This study is important and overwhelming in its implications for both the human and biological communities living in Fukushima.

“If the plants and animals are mutating and dying, this should be cause for significant public concern.”

My Take:  I’m sick at heart after researching, writing and understanding the implications of the aftermath of exposure to the radiation.

What’s left of my heart goes out to the people of Japan and the Ukraine.

Source:  Discovery News, August 14, 2012    Live Science, August 14, 2012    Study published in Scientific Reports, August 9, 2012


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