Multiple Russian media sources have released shocking reports and photographs of a huge butterfly the size of a bird found living and seemingly thriving in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone – one of the most dangerous and radioactive places on Earth. Should the brave souls attempting to move back to their homes near the failed reactor get some bigger nets?
“A butterfly with a wingspan the size of small bird was spotted in the Chernobyl exclusion zone by employees of the region's Radiation and Ecological Biosphere Reserve, who reported the encounter on the organization's Facebook page.”
While thousands of people have died or been affected by the radiation released during and after the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant disaster in 1986, scientists monitoring the exclusion zone around the remains of the plant – a “zone of alienation” extending 30 km (19 mi) in all directions from the plant where maintenance workers can only stay for five hours a day – say it has become a radioactive nature preserve where flora and fauna have survived and in many cases thrived due to the lack of humans. One group that did not is insects. Virtually all invertebrates disappeared from the exclusion zone, causing some animals and birds to look for other food or move. That’s why the bird-sized butterfly spotted in the area recently had people both excited about its existence but concerned about its seemingly mutant size. (See the photos here -- those in the image at the top are not the ones in Chernobyl.) Fortunately, entomologists jumped in quickly with an explanation.
“The office of the science department visited an unexpected guest - a rare butterfly Blue Ribbon (Catocala fraxini). He's still called the blue order tape. The butterfly is listed in the Red Book of Ukraine (vulnerable species).
This insect is one of the largest representatives of butterflies living in Ukraine and in general in Europe. The length of his front wing can reach 45 mm and the wingspan in flight is up to 110 mm. Butterfly is nice in flight.
Blue tape - active at night, flies to the light. You can see the scientists ′′ on the light ".
When the rain stops, the butterfly will be moved to its favorite tree - poplars.”
The Chornobyl Radiation and Ecological Biosphere Reserve issued a statement on social media identifying the butterfly as known a blue underwing (Catocala fraxini). With wings extending to 4.33 inches in flight, blue underwings are often mistaken for birds in areas where they still live. A species whose territory once covered Europe, it is now nearly extinct in the UK and a threatened species in Ukraine.
Why, when other insect species stay away from the exclusion area, has this monster butterfly returned? While it may look like a normal blue underwing, the researchers don’t know if it has been negatively affected or even mutated by the radiation. Insects initially disappeared from around the 2011 Fukushima disaster area in Japan, but butterflies have since returned and show signs of abnormalities. In particular, pale grass blue butterflies are smaller, grow more slowly and have higher mortality rates than before. Occurring almost 30 years later and with much more free and open media reporting on it, more is known about the effects of that disaster than Chernobyl, which still suffers from government secrecy.
The scientists at Chernobyl and Fukushima say they’re studying the radiation damage on wildlife to better prepare for future disasters. That’s not comforting at all. While it may be exciting to them that a huge bird-sized butterfly can live in a radioactive area, there’s still plenty of dead canaries in this coal mine.