Life is full of changes. Sometimes it takes a lot of energy just trying to keep up. There may be seasons we go through when it seems like our whole world just got turned upside-down. If you feel like you’ve gone through one of those seasons before, don’t worry – you’re not alone. Every butterfly has had a season when its whole world turned upside-down, everything fell apart, and dramatic changes were happening at a rapid pace. Yet most all of them seem to have made it through quite splendidly.
There are many intricate details that go into the grand changing process of metamorphosis for butterflies. Maybe you’re familiar with the childhood classic book, “The Very Hungry Caterpillar”, by Eric Carle, in which the caterpillar eats a ton of food, wraps himself in a chrysalis when he can’t take another bite, and transforms into a beautiful butterfly. It’s very true that the main life goal of a caterpillar is to eat and shed its exoskeleton outfits when it starts running out of room. Monarch butterfly eggs are about the size of a pinhead, but after the caterpillar hatches, it can grow more than three thousand times its size in just a few weeks. Putting that into a more human perspective, that would be like a sweet little six-pound human baby growing enough to weigh nine tons, which is about the weight of two African elephants combined!
When the time comes for this gluttonous creature to begin moving on to a more graceful calling, the hormones that control the shedding of the caterpillars’ exoskeleton instruct its body to do shedding a little differently this time. This time when it sheds, the caterpillar finds a nice perch to hang upside-down on, essentially replacing the last exoskeleton with a chrysalis. The chrysalis of a monarch butterfly is jade green and has a “crown” of twenty-four little gold specks near where the butterfly’s heart is and another twelve of these specks in different places around the chrysalis. You can also see several other features on the outside of the chrysalis, like the outline of wings forming. The patterns on the outside hint at what’s going on inside.
Interesting fact: when a caterpillar becomes a chrysalis, it can’t really see because its eye lenses were shed with the last exoskeleton. It can distinguish between light and dark, but that’s just about it
While in the chrysalis, or pupa stage, most of the caterpillars’ body parts, including vital organs like the stomach, are essentially dissolved so that the whole body can be re-created. This creature will have a totally different lifestyle when it emerges. Special groups of cells, called “imaginal discs”, use information from the DNA to form the new body parts, like magnificently beautiful, functional wings. Instead of a jaw to get big bites of leaves, the butterfly has a proboscis for sucking nectar. Chunky short legs need to become long and delicate. Whole body systems for digestion, nerves, muscles, vision, and reproduction need to be formed and organized. But after 8-14 days, all the right changes have been made and the butterfly is ready to make its debut flight into the world.
The butterfly bursts out of the chrysalis quickly by pumping blood through its new body, expanding the body and breaking through the encasement. After emerging, getting blood pumping through its new wings, and drying those wings for a few hours, the butterfly is ready to fly! This dramatic change is extremely risky for the caterpillar – getting a complex finely-tuned system that practically destroys and remakes an entire creature to evolve wouldn’t be possible. You can’t have an “in-between” creature that does parts of metamorphosis, but not all of it. Metamorphosis is an all-or-nothing package deal, not pick and choose, because if a creature only went through part of metamorphosis, it would not make it to adulthood, and therefore not be able to pass on its genes to the next generation. You have to have a Mastermind that put all the right information for every detail of metamorphosis into this creature from the beginning.
The Lord – the Creator of all life – knows every detail of history and our personal lives, from the beginning to the end. He has a plan for your life, and though it may not all make sense to us right now, just like destroying the body of a caterpillar in metamorphosis seems risky, He has a higher call for us in the end. Before we come to a real, personal relationship with the Lord, we live a lot like the caterpillar, just looking for our next meal – whatever we think will make us happy. If you choose to let Christ make you into a new creation, you enter into the chrysalis – it may mean some really radical changes and intense breaking down of the things you used to depend on. When Christ returns, He will make all things new, bursting you out of your old shell and into the new, beautiful creation He has been making you into – like the butterfly, you can burst out of the shell of this world and soar in newness of life.
Copyright Sara J. Bruegel, November 2015
Read previous articles in this butterflies series:
- Monarch Momma’s Medicine – topic is how female monarch butterflies medicate their sick young
- Keeping the Course – about monarch butterfly migration
- Monarch of the Garden – about butterflies, nature, death, and purity
- “Flight of the Butterflies” movie, as seen by the author in an IMAX theater May 26, 2013. http://www.flightofthebutterflies.com/home/
- “Metamorphosis: A Symphony of Miracles” by Dr. Gordon Wilson in Answers magainze, Vol. 9, no. 2, originally published April-June 2014, Answers in Genesis. https://answersingenesis.org/creepy-crawlies/insects/metamorphosis/
- “Migration and Overwintering” by USDA Forest Service. Last accessed November 6, 2015. http://www.fs.fed.us/wildflowers/pollinators/Monarch_Butterfly/migration/index.shtml
- “Design Features for the Monarch Butterfly Life Cycle”, by Kenneth B. Cumming, Acts & Facts 22 (3). 1993. Institute for Creation Research. http://www.icr.org/article/design-features-for-monarch-butterfly-life-cycle/