Are Butterflies a New Creation After All?

Their metamorphosis has inspired spiritual metaphors and biological debate for centuries. /

If you were to describe how a caterpillar turns into a butterfly, it would probably sound a lot like Eric Carle’s The Very Hungry Caterpillar. You might not include his bits about chocolate cake, lollipops, sausages, and pickles—but you know he gets it basically right. A caterpillar hatches from an egg, eats until it gets really fat, then creates its chrysalis shell. After a few weeks it pushes its way out and becomes “a beautiful butterfly”!

But wait, how did the caterpillar turn into a butterfly?

You have to love the answer at kidsbutterfly.org: “This is not easy to explain.” It goes on to try: “You can say that inside the chrysalis the caterpillar changes clothes and turns into a butterfly. (An esoteric explanation: Inside the chrysalis the caterpillar structures are broken down chemically and the adult's new structures are formed.)”

Right. But getting “broken down chemically” isn’t exactly compatible with “changing clothes,” unless you’re talking about a sartorial stew. The most frequently used word to describe the inside of a chrysalis at its most transformative moment as a caterpillar becomes a butterfly is soup. There’s no caterpillar carefully attaching wings to its back, or half-caterpillar half-butterfly hybrid. It’s just a wet, gooey mess in there.

The caterpillar’s body has melted, special enzymes dissolving tissues as the creature digests itself. Its legs? Gone. In fact, if a caterpillar lost one of its legs during its life, not to worry: The butterfly will have six anyway upon its emergence. The caterpillar’s eyes? Liquefied into the protein sludge, to be remade into some new part of the ...

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Also in this Issue

Issue 16 / February 19, 2015
  1. Editors’ Note
  2. George Whitefield, Divine Matchmaker

    The revivalist preached, ‘Come and be married to Christ’—and sparked the Great Awakening. /

  3. Thy Maker is thy Husband

    The 18th-century poem on union with Christ that became George Whitefield’s favorite metaphor. /

  4. If C.S. Lewis Met E.T.

    Scientists and theologians on the possibility of extraterrestrial life. /

  5. Wonder on the Web

    Links to amazing stuff /

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