TORONTO – An American woman shared her creative process behind performing live “butterfly surgery,” where she repairs wings and transplants for injured bugs on Facebook.
Katie Van Blaricum of Topeka, Kan., Owns the Insect Art, an online store that specializes in aesthetic assembly and display of insects for wall art, as well as custom insect-centric jewelry.
She says working as a teacher at the local Topeka Zoo and Conservation Center and volunteering at public monarch butterfly marking events exposed her to "butterfly surgery."
"The lady in charge [of the marking event] mentioned that she was about to sacrifice a butterfly that one of her students had accidentally damaged," Van Blaricum said in an email to CTV News.ca. "I told her I had fixed these butterflies in the past, so she asked me to try it."
"After that, she kept bringing me more and more" patients, "" she said. "Our zoo marked 600 butterflies this year, so there were some that needed help."
Van Blaricum said he had seen "Frankenstein butterflies" at a butterfly conservatory before, so he knew surgery was possible.
A video that Van Blaricum posted in his Insect Art Facebook page On September 26, detailing a wing transplant and repairing a monarch butterfly, it 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 gluing a replacement," she said, adding that since her first "patient" in 2013, she estimates she saved five butterflies with her surgeries.
Van Blaricum acknowledges that he works with an unorthodox medium, both in his art and his "patients", but said he is inspired by "people like Steve Irwin" who have the passion "to make the world love undervalued animals."
"The most important message I try to convey is that insects are more important than you think," she said. "You don't have to love insects to respect their place in nature."
Van Blaricum hopes that his art, which uses sustainable breeding insects from around the world, will help people understand the importance of conservation.
"The main threats to insect populations worldwide are habitat loss and large-scale pesticide use in industrial agriculture," she said. "I've been volunteering for wildlife rehabilitation for over 10 years … if we don't keep them [insects], many other animals will go with them."