Caterpillars Don’t Become Butterflies!

10298900_10203759279603307_7085417779304645126_nDid you know that caterpillars are not “transformed” into butterflies? In metamorphosis (the name of the process), a caterpillar is liquefied—nothing remains of its old nature. Only after the creature’s death can an entirely new creation, a butterfly, emerge!

But most people’s image of the process is more like Eric Carle’s classic children’s book The Very Hungry Caterpillar, in which the little caterpillar “makes a cocoon around himself the-very-hungry-caterpillar-480x270and goes to sleep, only to wake up a few weeks later wonderfully transformed into a butterfly!” (

The Very Dead Caterpillar would probably have sold fewer copies. But it would have been more accurate.

When I was a kid, I used to love going to La Mirada Creek and catching those pudgy little pre-frogs we called pollywogs (you may have called them tadpoles–I forgive you). AWAM072505_40I would bring them home and dump them into a tub, and then watch with fascination as they shed their tails, sprouted legs, and crawled out like showroom models: “The new Frog!” Now that is transformation (“change of form”) and it’s majorly cool. But it’s not what a caterpillar does.

A caterpillar dies.

After building its own coffin (cocoon), the caterpillar seals itself inside—and dissolves. And then, in a process only vaguely understood by scientists, that stew of free-floating genetic material undergoes a complete metamorphosis (“change of nature”). egyptian-red-lentil-soup

In other words, butterflies are not souped-up caterpillars, they’re entirely new creations made from caterpillar soup!

Not surprisingly, caterpillars and butterflies are used as spiritual symbols in virtually every country on earth. But because the real process is so radical and so little understood, they’re nearly always represented as symbols of transformation, rather than metamorphosis. To be fair, many religious teachings do help people become better caterpillars.

But that’s not enough.metamorph

According to Jesus, God doesn’t want souped-up caterpillars, he wants butterflies. He wants us to die to ourselves (Luke 9:23-24) and become completely “new creations” (2 Corinthians 5:17). Just like caterpillars do.

The Apostle Paul (in the Greek language of Romans 12:1 and 2) describes the process of metamorphosis like this:

Present your bodies as a living sacrifice (build your cocoon and get in!), holy (‘set apart’), acceptable to God (nothing short of metamorphosis can accomplish this)… Don’t be conformed by (don’t take on the ‘shape’ of) this world (or ‘age’ or ‘era’), but (instead) be metamorphosed (changed in your very nature) by the renewing (‘regenerating’ or ‘re-growing”) of your mind (the Greek word for mind is psuche—the same as the Greek word for butterfly!) so that you may be discerning (only by being metamorphosed can you know) what is the will of God (as opposed to the will of a dark, fallen world), what is good, well-pleasing, and perfect (‘complete’ or ‘whole’—in contrast to the incompleteness and brokenness of this world).”

Viceroy_ButterflyCaterpillars and butterflies are the world’s most popular symbol of transformation. But they’re also a far more powerful and challenging metaphor than most people realize.

It’s the end of one year and the beginning of another. What better time to start over, not just as “the New You!” but as a completely new creation!

Are you ready to start work on that cocoon?

About mitchteemley

Writer, Filmmaker, Humorist, Thinker-about-stuffer
This entry was posted in Culture, For Pastors and Teachers, Religion/Faith and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

116 Responses to Caterpillars Don’t Become Butterflies!

  1. This came up on my phone today Mitch, don’t know if you re-blogged it? An amazing revelation and one that gave me plenty of food for thought. Thanks for all the insights x

    Liked by 1 person

  2. gerrymackrell says:

    I did not know that. Miraculous.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. schoen55 says:

    What an amazing explanation. Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Kay says:

    Amazing new information for me with the symbolism to spiritual death and new life in Christ. Love it.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Hi Mitch,

    I only recently learned this fact about Caterpillars and Butterflies and now here I have the benefit of your eloquent explanation and scripturally sound analogy.

    Simply brilliant. Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Hey Mitch,
    Just a quick note. I am new to this and learning on the fly. I really appreciate your looking at my stuff. Maybe, one day, if will have some meaning.
    Thank you
    John Wilsion

    Liked by 1 person

  7. ria varnom says:

    I feel enlightened, thank you Mitch. I’m in a soup.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. revsdd says:

    Not entirely correct. The caterpillar digests its flesh and turns it into a soup-like liquid – except for what are called “imaginal discs” – which are clumps of cells that developed in the caterpillar before the caterpillar itself hatched and that basically form the genetic blueprint for everything that the butterfly will be – eyes, wings, legs, etc. When the caterpillar digests itself and dissolves its flesh, it doesn’t dissolve the imaginal discs. They remain, and they are the “engine” so to speak that sparks the transformation of what’s left into a butterfly. So the caterpillar doesn’t entirely shed everything that’s part of its old nature. The imaginal discs were always there and the caterpillar is transformed into what they point to. Similarly, the image of God is within us (it’s part of us) but we have to be transformed perfectly into that image.

    Liked by 2 people

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  10. gerrymackrell says:

    Suddenly, dying to myself seems like a good idea.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Well said. Thank you for liking my blog as well. Hoping that iron will sharpen iron.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Forrest Pasky says:


    I appreciate your always positive message Mitch.


    Liked by 1 person

  13. Food for thought! What an amazing phenomenon.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. nancyehead says:

    Very cool. Never heard that before! God bless!

    Liked by 1 person

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  16. Mid says:

    We allowed our insistent milkweed plants to have a home at the corner of our Michigan cabin, because I Love Monarchs! This year, I spied a chrysalis, but when I saw it again, it was already abandoned! 😉 I have found many “cats” on the leaves, but so hope to see one in “action”. I didn’t know this about the so-called transformation. I only have always wondered, with heart-felt praise, at God’s amazing creative powers, and His perfect way to illustrate our own changing from mortality into immortality!

    Liked by 1 person

  17. tinagk says:

    Awesome! Loved it! 😀

    Liked by 1 person

  18. Cindy says:

    Your ideas are more than an explanation. It is inspirational. Thank you. And may you appreciate God’s blessings every day.

    Liked by 1 person

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  21. joychibuzo says:

    Reblogged this on The Focused Heart and commented:
    2018 holds so much in store. This post by Mitch Teemly fits right in with the recurring themes so far. It’s time for something new. Let’s do this!

    Liked by 1 person

  22. Poor runny caterpillar! But a great post. Thank you for sharing this and I look forward to following.

    Liked by 1 person

  23. Judith Robl says:

    Thank you for stopping by Garment of Praise. Loved this post!!

    Liked by 1 person

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