Blue Butterflies Come Back from the Brink

California's Palos Verdes blue butterfly was thought to be extinict. But scientists have brought them back from the brink after discovering a colony of just 10 living on a Navy fuel depot near Los Angeles.
For years it was thought that California's lovely Palos Verdes blue butterfly - the size of a thumb-nail - was gone for good. But coincidence and hard work by scientists are bringing them back from the brink, as CBS News correspondent Ben Tracy reports.

On a warm spring evening in the hills of southern California , biologists are hoping it's a good night for romance

Scientists from Moorpark College want some tiny insects to mate. They are releasing the Palos Verdes blue butterfly back into the wild - a place the once-extinct species has not been for 20 years.

"These butterflies were wiped out by man," said Moorpark biologist Jana Johnson. "And … humans are going to put them back."

These electric blue butterflies once covered these hills just 20 miles from Los Angeles. Yet since 1984, they've been missing - their natural habitat of coastal scrub plants gone.

"As this area was developed for homes, roads and recreation, the habitat was chipped away until ... everyone really believed the butterfly was extinct," said Travis Longcorp, director of the group Urban Wildlands.

But in 2000, 10 little blues were found here at a Navy fuel depot nearby.

Jana Johnson and her team have spent 10 years nurturing eggs from just a few females in their lab at Moorpark College to grow a population of more than 5,000 blue butterflies.

"We hand feed each butterfly every single day," she said.

But with a total lifespan of just 10 days, there are few mating opportunities. The scientists have released 1,000 of the insects so far. Like cautious parents, they want to see what their little ones can do on their own in the real world.

"He will start patrolling for the ladies and we put a lot of ladies out there for him," Johnson said. "And I hope he finds them. We need them to mate - lay eggs. That is the next generation"

Then nature can take its course.