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Stages of the Butterflies

Metamorphosis of butterflies and moths is one of the mysteries of Nature. The ability of these insects to change from the crawling caterpillar to the flying adult is almost magical. Many people are so awe inspired by the metamorphosis that they believe that butterflies and moths could never have evolved over millions of years without a God behind it.

The butterfly exists in four distinct forms. Some consider that so do we: The fertilized egg is planted in our mother’s womb. From our day of birth we are like the caterpillar which can only eat and creep along.

At death we are like the dormant pupa in its chrysalis. After that, our consciousness emerges from the cast off body, and some see in this the emergence of the butterfly. Therefore, the butterfly is symbolic of rebirth after death.

For Christians, the butterfly’s three steps of metamorphosis — as caterpillar, pupa and then winged insect — are reminiscent of spiritual transformation.

The caterpillar’s incessant crawling and chewing reminds us of normal earthly life where people are often wholly preoccupied with physical needs. The chrysalis (cocoon) resembles a tomb and empty, can suggest the empty shroud left behind by Jesus. Therefore, a butterfly represents the resurrection into a new condition of life that is free of any material concerns.

In images of the Garden of Eden, Adam’s soul is symbolized by a butterfly, or drawn with butterfly wings. In paintings of Mary and her Child, the presence of butterflies stands for their care for human souls.

The Gnostics depicted the Angel of Death by showing a winged foot stepping on a butterfly. Since the insect is so fragile it can be torn apart by a hard rain, the butterfly stands for human frailty, both moral and physical. Also, as its life is not a long one, it is also a symbol of the ephemeral nature of physical existence. A butterfly with a torn wing is the icon for a North American charity that benefits disabled children.

When first hatched the larva or caterpillar is very small indeed, just a few millimeters long. These first larvae look similar regardless of which species they belong to.

Usually the caterpillar immediately searches out food and starts to eat, although some species over winter at this stage. Due to the nature of the skeleton of insects they cannot grow in the same way that we do. Every so often the caterpillar sheds its skin so that it can expand and grow to a larger size.

This process is known as ecdysis and each time it happens, the caterpillar moves on to a new instar. Most European species molt four times and so their final stage is usually the fifth instar.

Caterpillars feed for a large part of their time, consuming an ever increasing amount of food plant as they get rapidly larger. Some species prefer the cover of night to avoid unwanted attention, the Comma, Polygonia c-album, spends most of its time underneath leaves for the same reason. Their excrement, usually called frass, is dropped all over the place in small lumps.

Caterpillars produce a silken thread from organs beside their jaws. This is used for a variety of purposes. It gives the caterpillars a good hold on their food plant and some use it to rest between bouts of feeding.

When a caterpillar is fully grown it takes time to wander in search of a suitable pupation site. This stage is sometimes known as the pre-pupa. The larva will let all frass clear its system before pupation.

Different families pupate in different ways. A Nymphalid (left) spins a silken pad and hangs head down using its anal claspers to grip on. A Pierid (right) however spins a pad then attaches itself with head upwards, spinning a silken girdle for support.

A short while after the larva has attached itself the change to a pupa begins. It is thought a hormone is introduced into the system to begin this process. The word chrysalis is derived from a Greek word meaning gold, referring to the color of some Nymphalid pupae, whereas pupa is the scientific word describing this stage of a butterflies life.

Read about what do butterflies eat and life cycle of a butterfly at the Butterfly Facts website.
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Tags: butterfly wings, butterflies and moths, winged insect, physical existence, american charity

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