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. 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 4 people

  9. Pingback: It’s My 3rd Blogiversary! | Mitch Teemley

  10. gerrymackrell says:

    Suddenly, dying to myself seems like a good idea.

    Liked by 2 people

  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

  24. Pigeon Heart says:

    I had no idea! And pollywogs to us were those helicopter seeds that swirl-fall to the ground!

    Liked by 1 person

  25. joliesattic says:

    That explains a lot! I remember squishing a cocoon once, by accident of course, and being astonished that there was nothing in it but this liquefied goo in there. I may have been too busy at the time with little ones to question it beyond that, but not so much that it’s relegated place in my mind triggered it’s reemergence upon reading your post. So there it was dormant all these years. We are indeed splendidly made. Thanks for the explanation and what a good way to illustrate a Christian’s transformation. Well done!

    Liked by 1 person

  26. Mitch, I loved this post! Wow! I have to share this.

    Liked by 1 person

  27. Micki Allen says:

    Okay, so I laugh-snorted at “The Very Dead Caterpillar would probably have sold fewer copies.”

    Liked by 1 person

  28. douggiffin says:

    I really liked this. Made me think about what we say we’re committing to but don’t really realize the depth of what is expected of us.
    Memento mori

    Liked by 1 person

  29. Thank you for visiting ‘ComeFlywithme’ and for following – I appreciate the connection and very much look forward to reading more of your posts.

    Liked by 1 person

  30. Shawn Rain Chapman says:

    What!? I can’t believe it! I have to THINK about THIS!

    Liked by 1 person

  31. Lydia Reyes says:

    Brilliant! Love your posts!

    Liked by 1 person

  32. Yu/stan/kema says:

    Home run, Mitch. Very interesting.

    Liked by 1 person

  33. hannahtk says:

    And a brother in Christ to boot! What a scintillating read, I smiled through it all! Really, it was that bowl of yummy looking Thai soup that took this post to another level. I live for the stuff 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  34. Funny….”The Very Dead Caterpillar” and all the “soup” comments. Funny and informative!

    Liked by 1 person

  35. The next thing you’ll probably do is tell us that there is no Santa Claus!

    Liked by 1 person

  36. You have a great blog. Would you like to share your story on “What You Blog About”
    what motivated you to start this blog ?

    Liked by 1 person

  37. I just learned recently about the caterpillar’s turning into liquid first, and it is mind-blowing. (Evolution? Lol.) I guess that also explains why frogs aren’t used as symbols of new life, besides not being as pretty as butterflies. 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  38. Oluwatosin Macaulay says:

    I’ve read plenty of illustrations. But this is simply an amazing article. Beautiful and very simple to understand.

    God bless you so much for sharing your gift with us.

    Liked by 1 person

  39. I learned something today. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

  40. rue202 says:

    I did not know that about the caterpillar. Great post!

    Liked by 1 person

  41. This was an great analogy. I never knew this about caterpillars and butterflies, but it really does help to explain the process of being “born again” for Christians. Thanks so much for this insightful post. Even though I already understood the concept, it was like learning it all over again in a fresh new light. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  42. You have a lot of great insights and creative ways to express faith. Thank you so much. Thanks too for visiting my site.

    Liked by 1 person

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  45. Jordan says:

    “The Very Dead Caterpillar would probably have sold fewer copies. But it would have been more accurate.” – This made me laugh out loud. Fantastic post!

    Liked by 1 person

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