How does a Caterpillar Transform into a Butterfly?

The grade school explanation of how a caterpillar becomes a butterfly has always been boring for several decades now. Perhaps it is the reason why so many grade schoolers pay little attention to science. Besides, who would want to listen more to an explanation that happens to have skipped a lot of the important details. Here’s how it usually goes, especially true for my school: caterpillar crawls to find a perfect spot, then it covers itself  in a cocoon, after enough time has passed a butterfly will emerge from it.

The Surprise:

No, caterpillars do not simply hide inside their chrysalis and after a few days emerge with wings. What happens inside is that the caterpillar releases an enzyme that digests every tissue of the caterpillar. If you’ll imagine it, it would be like melting an ice.

Inside the caterpillar there are called “imaginal disks” which act as the transform agents when the metamorphosis starts. These “imaginal disks” transform into the wings, legs, organs, and antennae of the butterfly.

During the first 4 days the inside of the chrysalis is the remnants of the dissolved caterpillar, literally a liquid. This is when the magic happens, the cells inside the chrysalis start growing and arranging themselves to form new tissues, innards of the caterpillar, digestive system, the heart, nervous system, and literally everything.

From a caterpillar to liquid form to butterfly.


  • The caterpillar totally dissolves inside the chrysalis
  • Cells inside the chrysalis begin to reconstruct themselves to form a butterfly

Questions to ask yourself:

  • Considering that the caterpillar totally dissolved and formed into a new creature:
    1. Is it still the same person?
    2. Does the butterfly know what it was before being born?

What do you think?

For further reading:

Inside the Chrysalis

Image Source


  1. Rochester says

    Nice questions…

    But I don’t know, maybe it remembers since its subesophageal ganglion ceils still the same..

    Nice one!


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