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Mothra is real: Mutant butterflies found in Japan after nuclear accident

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
August 16th, 2012
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

In the movies, radioactivity made an ordinary butterfly into a gigantic moth - dubbed "Mothra." The popular Japanese monster movie series had the giant moth terrorizing Tokyo, serenaded by the twin princesses The Peanuts. Now - following the Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster after the tsunami and earthquake in March of last year, mutant butterflies in the area have taken root . in a most unwanted example of life imitating art.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic online) - In a relatively short period of time, the rate of the butterflies genetic mutations and deformities has increased with succeeding generations. "Nature in the Fukushima area has been damaged," Joji Otaki, a professor at the University of the Ryukyus in Okinawa says.

Researchers traced radiation released from the nuclear power plant, such as infertility, deformed wings, dented eyes, aberrant spot patterns, malformed antennas and legs as well as the inability to climb out of their cocoons. The butterflies from the sites with the most radiation in the environment have the most physical abnormalities.

"Insects have been considered to be highly resistant to radiation, but this butterfly was not," Otaki says.

The Japanese earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011, cut off power to the Fukushima Daiichi plant, leading to meltdowns that released radionuclides, which caused the deformities and genetic defects. Butterflies captured six months after the release had more than twice as many abnormalities as insects plucked two months following the release.

"One very important implication of this study is that it demonstrates that harmful mutations can be passed from one generation to the next, and that these might actually accumulate and increase over time, leading to larger effects with each generation," Timothy Mousseau, a professor of biology at the University of South Carolina says. Mousseau has studied the impacts of radiation from Fukushima and from the 1986 Chernobyl explosion in Ukraine.

"It is quite concerning to see accumulated effects occurring over relatively short time periods, less than a year, in Fukushima butterflies."

At the time of the disaster in March 2011, pale grass blue butterflies or Zizeeria maha) were overwintering as larvae. As soon as two months later, adult butterflies were located from 10 locations and scientists observed changes in the butterflies' eyes, wing shapes and color patterns.

Since the butterflies live in the same places a human beings, such as gardens and public parks, the insects are good environmental indicators, sensitive to environmental changes, said Otaki.

It is likely that the first generation of butterflies suffered both physical damage from radiation sickness and genetic damage from the massive exposure to radioactive isotopes after the disaster. This generation passed on their genetic mutations to their offspring, who then acquired their own genetic defects from eating radioactive leaves and from exposure to low levels of radiation remaining in the environment.

"This study adds to the growing evidence that low-dose radiation can lead to significant increases in mutations and deformities in wild animal populations, Mousseau says.

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