U.S. woman performs 'butterfly surgery' for local zoo using wing transplants
One of the Monarch butterfly "surgery" recipients is seen in this photo (Katie Van Balricum/Insect Art on Facebook)
TORONTO -- A U.S. woman has shared her creative process behind performing live “butterfly surgery,” where she repairs wings and performs transplants for the injured insects on Facebook.
Katie Van Blaricum, of Topeka, Kan., is the owner of Insect Art, an online store that specializes in the aesthetic mounting and display of insects for wall art, as well as custom insect-centred jewelry.
She says working as a docent at the local Topeka Zoo and Conservation Center and volunteering at public monarch butterfly tagging events exposed her to “butterfly surgery.”
“The lady in charge [of the tagging event] mentioned that she was about to euthanize a butterfly that one of her students had accidentally damaged,” Van Blaricum said in an email to CTV News.ca. “I told her that I had fixed such butterflies in the past, so she asked me to give it a try.”
“After that, she kept bringing me more and more ‘patients,’” she said. “Our zoo tagged 600 butterflies this year, so there were bound to be a few that needed help.”
Van Blaricum said she had seen “Frankenstein butterflies” at a butterfly conservatory before, so she knew surgery was possible.
A video that Van Blaricum posted on her Insect Art Facebook page on Sept. 26 detailing a wing transplant and repair on a monarch butterfly has received over 12,000 views, as people marveled at the delicate process needed to work on a live subject.
“The process involves cutting off the damaged part of the wing and then supergluing on a replacement,” she said, adding that since her first “patient” in 2013, she estimates she has saved five butterflies with her surgeries.
Van Blaricum acknowledges that she works with a rather unorthodox medium in both her art and her “patients.” but said she is inspired by “people like Steve Irwin” who have a passion “to make the world love the underappreciated animals.”
“The most important message I try to convey is: insects are more important than you realize,” she said. “You don’t have to love insects to respect their place in nature.”
Van Blaricum hopes that her art, which uses sustainably farmed insects from around the world, will help people understand the importance of conservation.
“The main threats to insect populations around the world are habitat loss and large scale use of pesticides in industrial farming,” she said. “I have volunteered for wildlife rehab for over 10 years…if we don’t conserve them [insects], then many other animals will go down with them.”