Butterflies get all the glory, fʟᴜttering around with their flashy looks. But Caterpɪʟʟar? There are more than just awkward adolescent phases. They do all the ʜᴀʀᴅ work so that one day they can look like this. As adults, ʙᴜᴛᴛerflies really only have one job: ᴍᴀᴛɪɴɢ.
They are basically flying ʀᴇᴘʀᴏᴅᴜᴄᴛɪᴏɴ machines powered by sugar water. Their proboscis is made for sipping nectar. But that liquid ᴅɪᴇt doesn’t give them much of the protein they need to make eggs. So that ʜᴜɴɢʀʏ, ʜᴜɴɢʀʏ caterpɪʟʟar has a big job to do. It is not ᴇᴀᴛing for itself. It is stockpiling the protein, it wɪʟʟ need later on to make the next generation.
It starts by ᴇᴀᴛing its way out of the egg. These pipevine swallowtail caterpɪʟʟars are chowing down on their favorite and only food. For a monarch caterpɪʟʟar, it’s all about the milkweed. In 2 weeks they wɪʟʟ grow 20 times longer. That is like a human baby growing as tall as a three-story building. A caterpɪʟʟar cannot see very well. It uses antennae to smell food. Not those big ones on top, those are for feeling around. It is the tiny ones right down there.
It ᴇᴀᴛs and ᴇᴀᴛs and ᴇᴀᴛs… storing up as much protein as possible. Lᴇᴀᴠᴇs are about one-quarter protein. After packing on the pounds for a couple of weeks, this monarch caterpɪʟʟar is finally ready for the big day. It weaves a ball of silk on a branch. Then, it hooks onto it- with its backside.
One day later. Look thʀᴏᴜɢʜ its skin, there is something wiggling in there. The caterpɪʟʟar pumps and pushes. Until … It splits open, sʜᴇᴅding all traces of its youth, including its face. The outer skin hardens into the chrysalis that protects the pupa inside. Its stomach shrinks. It gave up its gluttonous ways when the ʙᴜᴛᴛerfly ᴇᴍᴇʀɢes days later, it uncurls its brand new proboscis. Two pieces called galeae have to be ᴢɪᴘped together into a single straw before the ʙᴜᴛᴛerfly can use it.
And it lets those glorious wings unfold. They wɪʟʟ take it to find ᴍᴀᴛᴇs and a juicy new plant to lay its eggs on, using that stored up protein. This complete metamorphosis is called holometaboly. Multiple lives in a single life and It takes a lot of work. Bᴜᴛᴛerflies only live a few weeks. But this strategy is not as you might think. In the animal kingdom, it’s incredibly common. Mᴀᴍᴍᴀʟs like us are the ᴡᴇɪʀᴅ ones. After all, our face doesn’t fᴀʟʟ ᴏff when we grow up.