[...] When Joji Otaki began looking closely at the [pale grass blue butterflies] the size of a silver dollar, however, he was struck by abnormal patterns in the dark dots on their wings. Then he noticed dents in their eyes and strangely shaped wings and legs.
Otaki, a professor at the University of the Ryukyus in Okinawa, was in the Abukuma Mountains west of the disaster site collecting butterflies to study their response to the accident [2 months after 3/11].
[...] the aberrations they found took them by surprise. Abnormalities in the first generation were within normal boundaries. But when Otaki bred these butterflies in his laboratory, mutations in the offspring increased to 18 percent. That suggested inherited genetic damage. Field samples collected in September 2011, representing the fourth or fifth generation of butterflies since the disaster, had even higher abnormality rates. The changes may not all have been caused by radiation; Otaki had previously found evidence that temperature can affect wing markings. But the deformities his team found in antennae, legs, and other body parts are truly unusual, says Hokkaido University entomologist Shin-ichi Akimoto, who is studying the impact of Fukushima fallout on aphids. The abnormalities are troubling not only because insects are commonly assumed to be more resistant to radiation than humans, but also because they suggest the Fukushima nuclear disaster may be changing individual species, even entire forests.
“There is no question that ecosystems as a whole are suffering,” Otaki says. “There has been a sudden, large change.”
[...] As plants and animals continue to live in these irradiated environments, forests themselves may be evolving into different ecosystems. [...]
See also: Biologist on Mutated Butterflies: Study is overwhelming in its implications for humans -- Japan Researcher: Insects were believed to be very resistant to radiation -- Irregularly developed eyes, malformed antennae, much smaller wings (PHOTO)
Published: February 27th, 2013 at 2:33 pm ET