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How Does a Caterpillar Turn into a Butterfly?

Caterpillars turn themselves into butterflies by creating a cocoon to hold their bodies and then releasing enzymes to dissolve most of their body parts into a protein-rich mush. The only things not dissolved are collections of cells called imaginal discs, which then develop into the different body parts of an adult butterfly. The surrounding protein mush is used to help the cells in the imaginal discs reproduce quickly, growing in some cases by 1,000 times during the time the caterpillar is in a chrysalis (i.e., the life stage where a caterpillar turns into a butterfly).

More about caterpillars:

  • The smallest types of caterpillars are about 0.04 in (1 mm) long.

  • Lonomia achelous caterpillars are so toxic that touching several of them at once can cause massive, fatal hemorrhaging.

  • Several types of caterpillars and moths are carnivores. Liphyra brassolis caterpillars eat ants, and several Hawaiian species trap snails in webs of silk fibers like spiders and eat them.

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More Info: www.scientificamerican.com

Discuss this Article

bluefire
Post 4

To anon332661: Thinking that evolution is just a theory is your first mistake. A scientific theory, as scientists mean it, is the closest thing to fact that can be had. In common, everyday parlance, the word "theory" is used to mean hypothesis. But in science, "theory" means much more.

The first thing to know is that there are two parts of evolutionary theory. The first part is the fact that evolution has happened and continues to happen. We have observed it in action, and have no reason to think it won't continue to happen. This first part is not debated by scientists.

The second part of evolutionary theory is in the details of exactly how it happened/happens. This is the part that is debated and subject to revision pending further evidence and research.

Evolutionary theory is as much a fact as the fact that gravity operates everywhere we know of. The theory of gravity would also be "just a theory" in your thinking. But you can try proving it wrong by jumping out of a 20 story building!

Like evolution, gravity is a scientific theory also. The first part is that gravity is a fact and not seriously debatable. The second part is exactly how it works, what causes it, etc. This second part is still developing and debatable and will continue to be refined according to further research.

Like gravity, evolution can be proved false by one single example that contradicts the theory. So far, there are absolutely no examples that contradict either theory. But Einstein's theory of relativity (special and general, includes gravity) has withstood every test that has ever been devised. The same is true of evolution.

Since life on Earth began several hundred million years ago, I think this is plenty of time for complex life to evolve. But yes, a caterpillar turning into a butterfly is quite amazing. However, there is no mystery as to this process being something that evolved through mutations, natural selection, and gene expression mechanisms.

anon332938
Post 3

I am a pragmatist, and creationists are not my friends.

What irks me is that they present their flawed stories to our precious children in their early years of education, and it seems they cannot be stopped! Then our children grow up with a warped view of reality and nature, and the acidic creationist drivel dissolves precious minds into mush with no value or recourse.

Creationists are basically dreamers and story-tellers digging in the dirt of bygone ages, hoping somehow to justify their existence.

anon332694
Post 2

I am a pragmatist, and evolutionists are not my friends. Metamorphosis is a case in point.

Our solar system and earth are nowhere near old enough to support this utterly amazing and dumbfounding process using the "theory" of evolution. (Remember boys and girls, evolution is still just a theory!)

The fact that there are so many species of insects around our magnificent globe that use variations of this process, should drive evolutionists crazy attempting to present a plausible explanation for it. I have yet to find one who will/has. (They could lose their research funding?)

What irks me is that they present their flawed stories to our precious children in their early years of education, and it seems they cannot be stopped! Then our children grow up with a warped view of reality and nature, and the acidic evolutionary drivel dissolves precious minds into mush with no value or recourse.

Evolutionists are basically dreamers and story-tellers digging in the dirt of bygone ages, hoping somehow to justify their existence.

anon332661
Post 1

I am a Pragmatist and Evolutionists are not my friends. Metamorphosis is a case in point.

Our Solar System and Earth are no where near old enough to support this utterly amazing and dumbfounding process using the "theory" of evolution. (Remember boys and girls, evolution is still just a theory!)

The fact that there are so many species of insects around our magnificent globe that use variations of this process, should drive evolutionists crazy attempting to present a plausible explanation for it. I have yet to find one who will/has. (They could lose their research funding?)

What irks me, is that they present their flawed stories to our precious children in their early years of education, and it seems they cannot be stopped! Then our children grow up with a warped view of reality and nature, and the acidic evolutionary drivel dissolves precious minds into mush with no value or recourse.

Evolutionists are basically dreamers and story-tellers digging in the dirt of by-gone ages, hoping somehow to justify their existence.

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