Caterpillars Don’t Become Butterflies!


Did you know that caterpillars are not “transformed” into butterflies? In metamorphosis (the name of the process), a caterpillar is liquefied. Only after its actual death can entirely new creature, 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 known them as tadpoles). 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!” That’s 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 total 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 culture 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.

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 (incidentally, 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 and broken 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 still the beginning of a new year. 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 For Pastors and Teachers, Humor, Religion/Faith and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

172 Responses to Caterpillars Don’t Become Butterflies!

  1. Heather says:

    This is beautiful! I had no idea that the change from caterpillar to butterfly was so radical

    Your remark about the Very Dead Caterpillar made me laugh, though. You’re right, I’d likely never by a book with that title for my children.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. mitchteemley says:

    Yeah, and the sequel, The Beautiful Butterfly Made Out of Left-Over Goop from the Very Dead Caterpillar, probably wouldn’t sell that well either. ;>) Thanks, Heather!

    Liked by 3 people

  3. Matilda Novak says:

    This is really good, Mitch (as always)!
    Did you post it on FB as well? I’d love to Share it.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. mitchteemley says:

    Thank you, Matilda! I didn’t post the whole thing on Facebook (too long), but posted a link to it. You can do the same by clicking “Share This – Facebook” after the article above; it’ll allow you to add comments of your own, if you wish, too.


  5. Jeff Adams says:

    Just so you know, Mitch, I intend to use this. I’ll give you the credit, but it’s too good not to share.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Patty Kyrlach says:

    Best blog post I’ve read anywhere for a long time. Well done!

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Mitch, this is such an awesome illustration, packed full with truth! And I agree with Patty! Excellent… Thank you! Your writing is not only inspirational, but thought provoking and life changing. May the Lord continue to bless you as you follow this call. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  8. mitchteemley says:

    So glad you found it inspiring, and grateful that you took the time to say so! May the Lord continue to bless and guide you, as well.


  9. Caroline says:

    Excellent post! Excellent imagery! Very inspiring! I want nothing to do with that liquified caterpillar!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Musings from a Mother says:

    Would it be morbid of me to say this is beautiful? I love the application of “becoming new” as applied to Christianity. I have committed this idea to memory to share with my friends. Thanks Mitch!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Pam says:

    To imply total death of the caterpillar is not quite true. Some cells remain alive and give rise to butterfly structures. Technically speaking, if all tissues of the caterpillar died, all you would get from that is decomposed caterpillar. As when Jesus said, “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies it bears much fruit.” That grain of wheat does not technically die, or no new plant would grow. But we can appreciate the metaphor in both cases. Just saying…

    Liked by 1 person

  12. mitchteemley says:

    Good point, Pam. There is certainly a spark of life in that soup, though I don’t think I’d say, therefore, that the caterpillar is still alive. (This is probably more semantic than scientific.) And, yes, Jesus’ seed metaphor is spot on.


  13. chosenrebel says:

    Great story Mitch. Great clarification well told.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Pingback: Did Jesus Really Have to Die? | Mitch Teemley

  15. Phyllis says:

    Wow – controversy settled, and you put the icing on your informative piece with the amazing artwork! I’ve always been drawn to butterflies and their cousins (dragonflies) with their total transformation so much that my business reflects the logo. I look forward to reading more, and thanks for your visit and comment.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Phyllis says:

    I’d like to repost this to my blog – thanks Mitch

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Phyllis says:

    Reblogged this on Anchors and Butterflies and commented:
    Thanks mitchteemley, for the clarifying information. Who doesn’t love butterflies – and now we know (thanks Paul Harvey) “the rest of the story”.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. ErikaKind says:

    Very cool! Great explanation! That’s why I am having butterflies on my books about transformation and liberation.

    Liked by 2 people

  19. lbeth1950 says:

    I didn’t know that!

    Liked by 1 person

  20. mitchteemley says:

    Very few people do, lbeth (Elizabeth?). I didn’t until I looked it up a few years back for an entirely different message.


  21. Warren Pace says:

    That’s it! Your words right out of like thinking. One of my goals is to speak to the movement of those attempting please God by living under The Law (i.e. Hebrew Roots). I am considering re-blogging this post in a day or two. Thanks for pointing out this truth in creation.

    Liked by 1 person

  22. Warren Pace says:

    Reblogged this on Standing Up For Her and commented:
    Good thoughts on what the “NEW” is all about…

    Liked by 1 person

  23. Priscilla says:

    I have believed for some time that God made butterflies just to prove evolution is impossible, and to give us a picture of being born again. Praise the Lord!

    Liked by 1 person

  24. Pingback: A New Foundation for Your Life | Mitch Teemley

  25. mitchteemley says:

    Reblogged this on Mitch Teemley and commented:

    The end of one year and beginning of another: Seems like an appropriate time to re-post this. Happy New You, dear friends!


  26. n3v3rm0r3 says:

    Reblogged this on bliss for today.

    Liked by 1 person

  27. Kelly Anne Liberto says:

    Caterpillar soup- yum! 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  28. Wonderful post, Mitch. This very verbose woman is almost…speechless. Thank you for this new, marvelous thought to chew on in 2016. God bless.:0)

    Liked by 1 person

  29. dvaal says:

    Are you sure the soup inside the cocoon is dead? It is possible, it lives in some stage or another. Interesting facts. I love how you metamorphosed this story into Christ. Still -a gross thought.

    Liked by 1 person

  30. Wonderful analogy– fun to fin your blog Mitch.

    Liked by 1 person

  31. Jay says:

    Well, Mitch, I learned something here today!

    Liked by 1 person

  32. Megan says:

    Love this!! I’m speaking at a couple women’s events next month and I’m using the caterpillar to butterfly example to illustrate our new identity in Christ. This gives me some food for thought!!

    Liked by 1 person

  33. toutparmoi says:

    Great post, Mitch. Who isn’t fascinated, one way or another, by metamorphosis? “In my end is my beginning.”

    Or, as my 6 year old brother said (52 years ago) contemplating the frogs and the not-quite-frogs we’d reared, “Tadpoles must wonder.” Who doesn’t?

    Liked by 1 person


    Thank you for the insight. I always love to come here.

    Liked by 1 person

  35. This knocks the socks off awesome. Great insight Mitch. You inspire me.

    Liked by 1 person

  36. tamaraetienne says:

    Reblogged this on blessedwifehappymom and commented:
    This is an amazing post from

    Liked by 1 person

  37. nananoyz says:

    This is great! I thought I was following you! I am now.

    Liked by 1 person

  38. kbug66 says:

    Wonderful post. Thanks for visiting simplymeandjeans. Hope you enjoyed but I’m even more excited to follow your thoughts.

    Liked by 1 person

  39. lisawingrove says:

    Reblogged this on Wingrove Group Blog and commented:
    Let’s get busy than shall we….

    Liked by 1 person

  40. lisawingrove says:

    Lovely …

    Liked by 1 person

  41. This was a great post, I never knew that about the transformation. It’s amazing how nature works.

    Liked by 1 person

  42. Very interesting information. Makes me want to pause and read. These days that is a luxury for me as I am recovering from a stroke. Your blog is enjoyable. Lolita

    Liked by 1 person

  43. Lizzy says:

    I love caterpillars and butterflies! I once broke open a cocoon when I was a little girl to see what was “happening” on the inside. I was shocked to see that it was liquid. I thought maybe something went horribly wrong. And indeed something did go wrong; I broke it open because I am so overly curious. But it is an amazing metamorphosis that only God Himself can make happen.

    Liked by 1 person

  44. Great insight on the distinction, Mitch! I appreciate you stopping by my blog, as well!

    Liked by 1 person

  45. Pingback: What we will be… | Mitch Teemley

  46. L.E. Hansen says:

    so, if the caterpillar is completely gone, then replaced by the butterfly, is the consciousness of the caterpillar in the butterfly? Does the caterpillar know what happened? Does the butterfly? Or is it a completely new consciousness in the butterfly?

    Liked by 1 person

  47. L.E. Hansen says:

    Sort of metaphorically. Well yes but then we don’t know, do we? Science has now decided that plants do know certain things (here comes the evil man again) and they do feel pain. Not consciousness I know. For the sake of illustration, let’s assume that within the 4 stages each one is a being, and each one has consciousness. Now apply the question please.


    • mitchteemley says:

      Well, you’ve moved from spiritual metaphor to animal biology. Death is no longer a symbol in your scenario, but literal physical death. Biology tells us that memories are the result of electro-chemical interactions between synapses. Since those components are destroyed when a caterpillar dies, the answer to your question would presumably be, “No.” Unless some other form of memory unknown to scientists (or at least to me) is in operation. Do you know of one?

      Liked by 1 person

      • L.E. Hansen says:

        I don’t think it has to move to biology, but if so then, consciousness does not survive? It would seem so. The biology then applied to humans would be: 1. fertilized egg 2. baby 3. birth—growth/adult 4. death/grave? If it is taken as as analogy then what?


      • mitchteemley says:

        If you’re asking whether humans possess consciousness throughout all of those stages, my response would be: 1) Egg–who knows; 2) baby–in rudimentary form; 3) birth through adulthood–yes; 4) as an immortal soul in a spiritual body (non-material life form)–yes.
        (1 Corinthians 15:44).


  48. L.E. Hansen says:

    P.S. I posted a series of photos on a locust emerging from its pupa. You might want to check it out:
    The Locust, Butterflies, and Birth, on

    Liked by 1 person

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