Butterflies and Metamorphosis

During metamorphosis, after the larva stage, which creature turns itself into a soup-like substance?

And the answer: caterpillar.

Photo courtesy: OSHIAKI ONO / Getty Images.

While in a cocoon, the caterpillar digests itself, releasing enzymes to dissolve all of its tissues. This creates a sort of caterpillar soup. Certain cells survive this process and begin building the essential elements of the butterfly or moth, including its wings and legs.

From caterpillar to butterfly, the life cycle of these metamorphic creatures is a delicate yet highly complex process. From the moment the tiny caterpillar bursts through its egg, it is on a quest of growth. As it consumes leaves, it begins to shed its skin in a process called molting. When it has molted enough times, and consequently grown large enough, the caterpillar will find a branch from which it hangs itself upside down, and molts a final time to reveal its shiny chrysalis.

From there, things get a bit, well, soupy. While the enzymes dissolve all the parts resembling a caterpillar, highly organized groups of cells called imaginal discs remain to shape the form of the butterfly soon to come. These discs are specialized, each taking the form of the adult butterfly body parts. Some species of caterpillar are born with these discs, and carry them internally until the point of metamorphosis.

While caterpillars' transformation is considered a "complete metamorphosis," other small insects transform in an "incomplete metamorphosis." Grasshoppers, crickets, dragonflies, and cockroaches usually look like a smaller version of the adults but without the wings at the time of their hatching, accounting for the "incomplete" of their metamorphosis.

To see these incredible insects' metamorphosis in action, check out the video below.


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