Mutant butterflies a result of Fukushima nuclear disaster, researchers say
This image from a study on Fukushima's impact on butterflies shows wings mutated by the radiation.
August 14th, 2012
10:35 AM ET

Mutant butterflies a result of Fukushima nuclear disaster, researchers say

In the first sign that the Fukushima nuclear disaster may be changing life around it, scientists say they've found mutant butterflies.

Some of the butterflies had abnormalities in their legs, antennae, and abdomens, and dents in their eyes, according to the study published in Scientific Reports, an online journal from the team behind Nature. Researchers also found that some affected butterflies had broken or wrinkled wings, changes in wing size, color pattern changes, and spots disappearing or increasing on the butterflies.

The study began two months after an earthquake and tsunami devastated swaths of northeastern Japan in March 2011, triggering a nuclear disaster. The Fukushima Daiichi plant spewed radiation and displaced tens of thousands of residents from the surrounding area in the worst nuclear accident since the 1986 Chernobyl disaster in Ukraine.

In May 2011, researchers collected more than 100 pale grass blue butterflies in and around the Fukushima prefecture and found that 12% of them had abnormalities or mutations. When those butterflies mated, the rate of mutations in the offspring rose to 18%, according to the study, which added that some died before reaching adulthood. When the offspring mated with healthy butterflies that weren't affected by the nuclear crisis, the abnormality rate rose to 34%, indicating that the mutations were being passed on through genes to offspring at high rates even when one of the parent butterflies was healthy.

The scientists wanted to find out how things stood after a longer amount of time and again collected more than 200 butterflies last September. Twenty-eight percent of the butterflies showed abnormalities, but the rate of mutated offspring jumped to 52%, according to researchers. The study indicated that second-generation butterflies, the ones collected in September, likely saw higher numbers of mutations because they were exposed to the radiation either as larvae or earlier than adult butterflies first collected.

To make sure that the nuclear disaster was in fact the cause of the mutations, researchers collected butterflies that had not been affected by radiation and gave them low-dose exposures of radiation and found similar results.

"We conclude that artificial radionuclides from the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant caused physiological and genetic damage to this species," the study said.

The results of the study bring up concerns about the larger impact of the Fukushima disaster and the impact it will have on the ecosystem in Japan and nearby areas, as well as what we can learn for future nuclear disasters.

"Our results are consistent with the previous field studies that showed that butterfly populations are highly sensitive to artificial radionuclide contamination in Chernobyl and Fukushima," the study said. "Together, the present study indicates that the pale grass blue butterfly is probably one of the best indicator species for radionuclide contamination in Japan."

One of the researchers, Joji Otaki, an associate professor at the University of the Ryukyus in Okinawa, told reporters that while butterflies may be the best indicator, the study should also lead to more research on what else may be affected by the radiation.

"Sensitivity (to irradiation) varies between species, so research should be conducted on other animals," Otaki told the Japan Times.

Otaki said while there is still plenty of research to be done on radiation, there shouldn't be large-scale concern about this kind of mutation in humans.

"Humans are totally different from butterflies and they should be far more resistant" to radiation, he told the newspaper.

Read more:

Inside Fukushima's meltdown zone

What Fukushima did to the ocean

Gallery: Then and now

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Filed under: 2011 tsunami • Animals • Insects • Japan
soundoff (316 Responses)
  1. Mick

    Have they discovered Mothra yet?

    August 14, 2012 at 10:42 am | Report abuse | Reply
    • Foo

      Dude, that was so awesome!

      August 14, 2012 at 11:01 am | Report abuse |
  2. Giant Atomic Lizard

    MOTHRAAAAAAAAAA!!!

    August 14, 2012 at 10:48 am | Report abuse | Reply
  3. jason

    and so the life cycle of MOTHRA begins!

    August 14, 2012 at 10:50 am | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Moth Ra

    Mothra!!

    August 14, 2012 at 10:52 am | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Uh oh

    King Kong, err, no... MOTH RA!

    August 14, 2012 at 10:53 am | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Michael

    Has anyone mentioned Mothra yet? Anyone?

    August 14, 2012 at 10:54 am | Report abuse | Reply
  7. New Gawker

    I think we should be more worried about Godzilla germinating under the waters of Tokyo.

    August 14, 2012 at 10:55 am | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Shhhhh

    What's that creature? Moth? Mothma? Mothman? Shoot. I give up.

    August 14, 2012 at 10:55 am | Report abuse | Reply
  9. james

    simpsons did it first!

    seriously though, this is the tip of the iceberg. if there is any follow up to this, they may discover other bugs and animals affected

    August 14, 2012 at 10:57 am | Report abuse | Reply
    • pastafaria

      Speaking of that, Fox News ran a segment with a Charles Darwin lookalike explaining that these mutated butterflies are actually superior to the normal ones.

      August 14, 2012 at 11:08 am | Report abuse |
    • wade long

      James, Of course other animals were affected... It's nuclear fallout into the sea, air and land. I mean, seriously, did you think about all sides of this. This whole report is like duh.

      August 14, 2012 at 8:39 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Lady B

    Would you still be making the same inane, immature jokes if this was happening in your neighborhood? How about your kids? Would it be funny if they were born deformed? Yeah....l didn't think so. Why is it that 99.99% of the people who post on CNN are amateur comedians?

    August 14, 2012 at 10:59 am | Report abuse | Reply
    • pastafaria

      @Lady B. See my reply to James, above. There is absolutely nothing to worry about.

      August 14, 2012 at 11:11 am | Report abuse |
    • Lady B

      Dear Relax,

      Thanks for the helpful advice :) Have a blessed day...

      August 14, 2012 at 11:37 am | Report abuse |
  11. ObieJuan

    All those kaiju movies were on to something. Forget Mothra though. Bring on GODZILLA.

    August 14, 2012 at 10:59 am | Report abuse | Reply
  12. dstrimple

    Clearly in about 15 years we will have Teenage Mutant Ninja Butterflies, and they will still be better than a Michael Bay Ninja Turtles movie.

    August 14, 2012 at 10:59 am | Report abuse | Reply
    • ObieJuan

      This guy... I love this guy.

      August 14, 2012 at 11:04 am | Report abuse |
  13. Bob Dole

    LOL!! Good one!

    August 14, 2012 at 11:00 am | Report abuse | Reply
    • Hope

      Hey, Bob...

      How'd you get all the way over here?

      This is not a test...
      :D

      Love,
      Hope

      August 14, 2012 at 5:05 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Dan

    "Mutations:? REALLY???

    There I was, thinking a mutation is a HERITABLE change in the DNA, or genetics, not just some physiological or phenotypic ABNORMALITY.

    Is anyone mating and breeding, or doing any sequencing these to actually see if they are mutations? Aw, who cares, it's the HEADLINE, stupid!

    Yeah, those silly university biology courses and intellectual terms are no match for the reality of tabloid sensationalism.

    August 14, 2012 at 11:01 am | Report abuse | Reply
    • reasonablebe

      mutation can be natural, as in evolutionary, or traumatic, as in caused by environmental exposure to toxic or traumatic damage change, such as radioactive explosions. ck your into to bio again.

      August 14, 2012 at 11:19 am | Report abuse |
    • Jfruh

      Mutations don't have to be hereditary. Any cell in your body can have its DNA mutate and it can give rise to tumors or other problems. It's only going to be hereditary if the mutation happens in the genitals.

      August 14, 2012 at 11:19 am | Report abuse |
    • Query

      I'm no biologist but I thought that to qualify as a mutation it just had to be heritABLE not necessarily inheritED. Can these "mutations" exhibited by the butterflies not be passed on?

      P.S. I really don't know, just wondering. Also did not read the entire article.

      August 14, 2012 at 11:20 am | Report abuse |
    • Tryreadingpaper

      Try clicking on the link to the paper. They look at offspring and verify that the phenotype changes are heritable.

      August 14, 2012 at 11:21 am | Report abuse |
    • MT

      What university did you attend? Look up "induced mutation", or mutation brought on by exposure to certain chemicals or radiation. That was quite a rant for having no good point at all.

      August 14, 2012 at 11:22 am | Report abuse |
    • Valerie

      The article DOES mention heritability of the abnormalities.

      August 14, 2012 at 11:22 am | Report abuse |
    • Gordio

      "As the headline says, Applebees and Taco Bell are two big names cashing in on the roving restaurant trend. But there are also now trucks from Sizzler, Jack in the Box and Red Robin. If those big fish weren't enough to have you wondering if food trucks had jumped the shark, consider that NBC (yes, that NBC) recently had a food truck at SXSW and several U.S. cities have reported seeing a food truck selling Gap-branded tacos."

      August 14, 2012 at 11:23 am | Report abuse |
    • Gordio

      Sorry pasted the wrong quote somehow
      "When those butterflies mated, the rate of mutations in the offspring rose to 18%, according to the study, which added that some died before reaching adulthood. When the offspring mated with healthy butterflies that weren't affected by the nuclear crisis, the abnormality rate rose to 34%, indicating that the mutations were being passed on through genes to offspring at high rates even when one of the parent butterflies was healthy"

      August 14, 2012 at 11:24 am | Report abuse |
  15. pkMyt1

    Interesting. There were many clastogens released from that explosion that could have caused this. A direct result of radiation exposure is only one.

    August 14, 2012 at 11:02 am | Report abuse | Reply
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