Japan may have a real-life Mothra on its hands. Like the giant moth that often battled Godzilla, the butterflies near the site of the 2011 Fukushima disaster may have been mutated by exposure to radiation. But Tokyo is in no danger of being demolished by these butterflies.

To the contrary, the butterfly’s mutations, such as small wings and irregular eyes, seem like handicaps and the malformations are getting worse with succeeding generations, say a team from the University of the Ryukyus, Okinawa in the journal Scientific Reports. The team has been studying the species, known as the pale grass blue butterfly (Zizeeria maha) for more than 10 years, reported BBC News.

The fluttering freaks were found by the Japanese entomologists. The insects were part of a group of 144 of their kind collected from 10 different parts of Japan in May 2011, two month after the earthquake/tsunami/nuke disaster combination struck the Land of the Rising Sun. Only near the site of the damaged Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant did the scientists find abnormal butterflies.


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To test the long term fallout of the possible radiation-induced mutations, the scientists raised some of the butterflies from the site in a lab far from the on-going effects of radiation exposure near the nuclear plant. The next generation was even more malformed that the first, even though they were raised far from any radioactive contamination. Field studies in September 2011 found that subsequent generations of wild butterflies were more warped as time went on as well.

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“This study is important and overwhelming in its implications for both the human and biological communities living in Fukushima,” Tim Mousseau, a University of South Carolina biologist who specializes in studying radiation’s effects on organisms near Chernobyl and Fukushima, told the BBC. Mousseau was not involved in this research.

“These observations of mutations and morphological abnormalities can only be explained as having resulted from exposure to radioactive contaminants,” Mousseau said.


The pale grass blue butterfly (Laitche, Wikimedia Commons)