Do All Caterpillars Turn Into Butterflies? Fun Facts To Know!

Shirin Biswas
Feb 28, 2023 By Shirin Biswas
Originally Published on Nov 09, 2021
Caterpillar resting on a milkweed leaf.
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Age: 3-18
Read time: 5.8 Min

Whether it be a butterfly or moth, the wings of these insects have always fascinated humankind.

However, have you ever wondered how these wings form and the transformation that each caterpillar has to go through before the final butterfly comes into being.

If you do happen to find a caterpillar or two in the park as you take a walk, what are the things that you should know about the insect? Each caterpillar is destined to turn into a winged butterfly or a moth someday. In fact, the entire existence of a caterpillar is centered around eating enough to fuel the transformation process and turn into a butterfly.

At the same time, it also becomes important to understand the anatomy of these insects and the bodily secretions that enable such drastic changes. Keep reading to understand a caterpillar's anatomy and its life processes!

If you enjoy reading this article, why not also check out butterfly antenna and butterfly life span here at Kidadl!

Are there any caterpillars that don't turn into butterflies?

Butterflies and moths lay eggs, which hatch into tiny caterpillars. These caterpillars are destined to undergo a complete metamorphosis and transform into either a butterfly or moth. This is because a caterpillar eventually stops the production of the hormone that keeps it in the larval stage. This results in cocoon or chrysalis formation, which is the process that leads to the birth of an adult butterfly or moth.

There are many caterpillars that do not transform into butterflies and turn into moths instead. However, there are no other variations to this rule. All caterpillars are bound to go through a transformation, either by becoming a butterfly or a moth!

Why do caterpillars not turn into butterflies?

Caterpillars are fascinating creatures because there is hardly any way to determine whether a caterpillar will turn into a butterfly or moth. This is because the features of both kinds of caterpillars are indistinct and very hard to distinguish between.

Some caterpillars are only capable of creating a chrysalis that will turn them into dark-colored moths, while others make cocoons that burst open to reveal the most vibrant butterflies. In either case, the metamorphosis or complete transformation is a given. However, there are many eggs that do not hatch and many caterpillars that do not survive their larval stage. In these unfortunate circumstances, we can expect not to see a moth or butterfly.

Do butterflies remember being caterpillars?

While there is no solid conclusion in this discussion, scientists have had certain successful results that suggest that a butterfly does remember its larval stage to some extent.

There was a recent study in which caterpillars were trained to recognize a certain smell. This smell was associated with a bad experience since they would get a slight electric shock each time the insect smelled this scent. These insects started to understand the aggressive nature of the smell and avoided it completely. Once the imaginal discs of the caterpillars had gone and their body had taken the shape of a butterfly, the wildlife experts again introduced the smell to these insects. It was quite surreal to find that almost all of the butterflies remembered the bad experiences associated with the smell and avoided it.

While this research does not show if the insect also had any memory of living on plants and eating leaves, it does show that the memory of the larva was kept intact in certain cases. It is thus legitimate ground for assuming that a butterfly does have some faint recollection of its larvae stages, although only in certain species.

How do caterpillars turn into butterflies and moths through metamorphosis?

A butterfly lays hundreds of eggs at a time since there is a high mortality rate during the egg and larvae stages. Each egg, if given the proper time and environment, hatches to give birth to larvae, or what we know as a caterpillar. This caterpillar is usually born small; however, with food and nectar, the shape and size of its body change.

The bodies of caterpillars grow to about 100 times their initial size at this stage. This is because the larva is typically eating to gain energy and form its organs. Such organs include imaginal discs, a hefty body and some short legs.

When the larvae are done eating after a few weeks, their bodies stop producing the juvenile hormone that slows down chrysalis formation. The lack of juvenile hormone means that the insect can no longer live in the same body and has to transform.

The next stage is the pupa, during which the cocoon or chrysalis formation takes place. The insect does not eat anything during metamorphosis since it remains completely enclosed inside its cocoon. At this time, the caterpillar transforms into an adult butterfly or a moth, depending upon the species. The pupa is very delicate and vulnerable, and many animals eat them.

The time required for metamorphosis is different for all butterfly species, and hence, there can be no generalized time span. While some may take a week or two, others may require months!

Side view of a Tobacco hornworm moth caterpillar.

How do butterflies and moths start their lives?

Butterflies and moths start their lives as caterpillars and remain in this stage until they are ready for the metamorphosis process. When a caterpillar hatches out of its egg, it is born with a small body, tiny legs and antennae. As the caterpillar gets plenty of vegetation to eat, the antennae and legs grow along with the body. Eventually, some organs form. A caterpillar even has imaginal discs, which are essentially the cells that are in its body, and waits for the metamorphosis process to turn into an adult butterfly. Wing formation only happens during metamorphosis, as they shed their cocoon and emerge as completely new insects!

Science and its development show that, whether it be moths or butterflies that emerge from the cocoon, it is essential to the life of these insects that they get plenty of food to eat during the pupal stage.

How is a caterpillar's transformation controlled?

Science and wildlife research shows that the complete transformation of caterpillars into moths or butterflies is dependent on the hormones that the caterpillar has in its body. During the first few weeks, a caterpillar has plenty of juvenile hormones, which prevents the onset of the pupal stage.

Once the juvenile hormone stops being produced, the caterpillar is ready to transform into an adult butterfly or moth. At this stage, the imaginal discs come into play as the cells start functioning and changing the caterpillar completely. Once the pupa has been formed, and the caterpillar is enclosed in it, it starts converting into an adult moth or butterfly. This is also the stage where wings are formed since only adults of the species have wings and not the juvenile caterpillars.

Finally, the pupa is shed after metamorphosis is complete, and the tiny, winged creature flies away for its own wildlife safari!

Here at Kidadl, we have carefully created lots of interesting family-friendly facts for everyone to enjoy! If you liked our suggestions for 'Do all caterpillars turn into butterflies?' then why not take a look at 'Caterpillar sting', or 'Caterpillar facts'.

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Written by Shirin Biswas

Bachelor of Arts specializing in English Language and Literature

Shirin Biswas picture

Shirin BiswasBachelor of Arts specializing in English Language and Literature

With a degree in English from Amity University, Noida, Shirin has won awards for oratory, acting, and creative writing. She has a wealth of experience as an English teacher, editor, and writer, having previously worked at Quizzy and Big Books Publishing. Her expertise lies in editing study guides for children and creating engaging content.

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