The caterpillar transformation

A few weeks ago, while I was working in Mildura, I was listening to a podcast of Radiolab, witch was talking of “Black boxes“. One of the black boxes discussed in the podcast was the caterpillar transformation in butterfly. The topic make me very curious and I’ve decided that it deserve a post on my blog.
As everybody knows, caterpillars make a cocoon after a period of time that is different between the species and become a butterfly that start flying. The question arises:


What happen inside the cocoon during the caterpillar transformation?
The first thing most of the people think is that the caterpillar grows 2 wings and its body change as a consequence. Well, that’s wrong! (:
If someone take a cocoon and open it after the caterpillar have started its chrysalis you won’t find neither a caterpillar nor a butterfly. You’d just find a yellow liquid.

What? The caterpillar is.. melt? what happened
Tha’s the interesting thing! Since 1600 people have started to wonder what happen during the chrysalis. The only solution they found was that something magic was happening. people thought it was something religious, like a miracle in whitch the caterpillare die and revive butterfly.
Furthermore, some studies showed that butterflies (or moths) ‘remember’ their lives when they were caterpillars and act accordingly. To be more precise, the experiment proved that a butterly avoid a smell it learn to avoid when it was a caterpillar. This means that also the brain with the memory is rebuilt in the new body.

Amazing! So? How can a caterpillar become butterfly?
Well, first of all the carterpillar digest himself realising enzymes to dissolve the tissues. It seems that the content of a cocoon is not just a mix of tissues but some groups of organised cells called ‘imaginal discs’ survive to the digestive process. These cells are already present in the caterpillar’s egg. They grow during the caterpillar’s life for every parts of the adult body. There will be sn ‘image’ for the legs, the eyes, the wings, and so on. Once that the cartepillar has been dissolved, the cells use all the proteins there are around to create the new body.


The mistery is explained. This can be called a miracle of the nature.

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