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Getting Cozy With Baby Butterflies … So Cozy, They Whisper A Wriggly Secret

Filed by KOSU News in Science.
July 20, 2013

I’ve got a friend, Destin, who has a YouTube channel called Smarter Every Day, where he pokes around with his camera to get extremely intimate looks at small miracles in nature. In this one, about the secret life of baby butterflies, he learns that when it comes time for the caterpillar to turn itself into a butterfly, it doesn’t spin a lot of silk and build itself a shelter (a pupa). I thought that what caterpillars do. But no … take a look at what actually happens.

There’s another mystery here that Destin has yet to ponder. (But he says he will. He’s working on it for later this year.) We’ve read, and reported on this blog that when it’s time for caterpillars to transform themselves, once they are safe inside the pupa, they melt. That’s what some experts say: they dissolve into a cytoplasmic goo, and cells they used as wormy little babies break down, and inside the pupa, the caterpillar becomes a soup. Then, somehow, that ooze gets rebuilt into a very differently shaped, flying, gorgeously colored adult. Most babies, like ducks, ants, people, birds, keep their form and just grow. Not moths and butterflies. They do a total makeover. How does that work? What is directing the resurrection? I don’t know what kind of camera Destin will need to peek into the innards of a tiny, hard insect hideaway, but knowing Destin, he’ll figure out something. [Copyright 2013 NPR]

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