Created By: PapercutChainsaw on October 26, 2011 Last Edited By: timharrod on June 12, 2016

Caterpillar Becomes Butterfly

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Any story that involves a caterpillar will end with the caterpillar becoming a butterfly.

The metamorphosis event itself is not remarkable, since it is, of course, a Truth in Television. However, what is interesting is that the life cycle of other animals that undergo metamorphasis is not featured nearly as prominently in fiction. Why do we rarely see cartoons about tadpoles growing into frogs? Where are all the picture books about the Very Hungry Maggot?

A possible explanation is the symbolism associated with butterflies. We tend to consider them more beautiful, elegant creatures, and the idea that something as ugly and clumsy as a caterpillar can become one appeals to our imagination.

Some stories choose to follow the caterpillar's point of view as it goes through metamorphosis.

Others, however, particularly animated series, will have a young or naive character adopt a pet caterpillar, only to later "lose" it, and spend the episode worrying about it. At the end, their pet is revealed to have miraculously undergone metamorphosis in the space of twenty minutes, becoming a butterfly. The young character then learns about this wonder of nature. (This is a good episode to have if you want to pass your show off as "educational").




Western Animation
  • An episode of SpongebobSquarepants parodies this. Spongebob's pet caterpillar becomes a butterfly, but Spongebob assumes that the butterfly is a monster that ate his pet, and is utterly terrified of it for most of the episode. We even get treated to Gross Up Close Ups of a real life butterfly to make it appear scary.
  • At the end of A Bug's Life, Heimlich the caterpillar emerges from a crysalis, looking exactly the same except for a tiny pair of butterfly wings that he can't even fly with. He is overjoyed nonetheless.
  • The 1967 Czech cartoon <a href="">Sametka</a>, released in the U.S. as "Caterpillar."
Community Feedback Replies: 24
  • October 26, 2011
    Would Caterpie, Metapod, and Butterfree count? (There are many other examples in Pokémon though, and it's not even the only butterfly-based one.)
  • October 27, 2011
    • In Disney's Alice In Wonderland, the Caterpillar changes into a butterfly at the end of his encounter with Alice.
  • October 27, 2011
    ^^ This is a plot trope, so if it was featured in an episode of the anime it might count...
  • October 27, 2011
    • The catterpillar/butterfly motif is mentioned in Warriors Of Virtue, but with a different meaning: When a character tried to "help" the butterfly break out of its cocoon, it died shortly afterwards because that's something it has to get strong enough to do by itself.
  • October 27, 2011
    In the classic book Hope For the Flowers [1], two caterpillars want to "get high" and join a bunch of other caterpillars in making a pillar to the sky- one breaks off from the group and eventually becomes a butterfly, leading the others to follow their true instincts.
  • October 27, 2011
    ^^^It is, Ash catches a Caterpie and over time it evolves into a Butterfree.
  • October 27, 2011
    In one Animorphs book, Cassie agrees to trap herself in caterpillar morph in exchange for a Yeerk freeing its host body. Later, after she becomes a butterfly, she's able to change back (the metamorphosis or "natural morphing" reset her morphing clock).
  • October 28, 2011
    One insect-themed filler villain team in Naruto included a stout ugly woman who could make a one-time Deadly Upgrade transformation into a much more graceful and powerful female.
  • October 28, 2011
    In one Teen Titans episode, Starfire goes through such a metamorphosis, at first becoming progressively uglier, then getting encased in a coccoon, and finally emerging as... her normal self, but with Eye Beams!
  • October 28, 2011
    Used for a Green Aesop in an episode of Fraggle Rock. The Gorgs' garden is infested with caterpillars, which they try to poison (not entirely successfully); the Fraggles are horrified at this destruction of life. At the end of the episode the surviving caterpillars all transform into a variety of butterfly that the Gorgs are especially fond of. (I suspect I am forgetting important details here.)
  • October 28, 2011
    ^ No doubt the hungry caterpillars were munching on their precious garden flowers, which is why they wanted to get rid of them.
  • October 29, 2011
    Katy Caterpillar?
  • October 29, 2011
    Tabletop Games:

    Video Games:
    • Pokemon has had Caterpie and Weedle from the start, small bug-type caterpillars that evolve into cocoons before eventually evolving into Butterfree and Beedrill, respectively. Subsequent generations added Expies like Wurmple.
  • October 29, 2011
  • October 30, 2011
  • October 30, 2011
    The antagonist in Making Money goes on about turning into a butterfly as he tries to become Havelock Vetinari, but none are actually shown in the book.
  • October 30, 2011
    • Chouji from Naruto. He is a fat kid, and later a Stout Strength fighter using shapeshifting and sumo-themed moves - until he learns his clan's ultimate technique of converting mass into energy, upon which he becomes a Bishonen with butterfly wings of Pure Energy.
    • During a tournament held in Warrior Heaven in Dragonball Z one caterpillar-like alien uses transformation as his final technique - and promptly gets disqualified when the audience learns that it will take him many centuries to emerge from the cocoon.
  • October 30, 2011
    To elaborate on Ash's Caterpie/Metapod/Butterfree, I'd say it is rather significant: Caterpie was the first Pokemon to evolve in the anime, having evolved to Metapod in the same episode it was caught in, and becoming Butterfree in the following episode. In the games, Caterpie and its expies are some of the easiest to evolve Pokemon. In both cases this evolution is the first viewers (or one of the first for players) witness, and since the caterpillar metamorphosis is one every person is familiar with, it basically introduces first timers to the idea of Pokemon-brand evolution.
  • November 5, 2011
    so, is this stil being worked on?
  • February 27, 2012
    The OP Papercut Chainsaw hasn't posted since October 2011, so it's Up For Grabs.
  • January 18, 2013
    This seems like a valid trope to me but the description still needs work...
  • June 11, 2016
    More examples...
    • Malcolm in the Middle did this in the episode "Butterflies," where the B-story had Reese, whom was instructed to spread hundreds of Monarch caterpillars everywhere for the exterminator he worked for (who got fired), grows attached to them and nurtures them, to Lois and Hal's disdain. The ending is humorous when the butterflies all emerge, and at first Reese is delighted, but then the hundreds of butterflies begin flocking the room like crazy and freak him out!
    • Little Bill had the episode "Mr. Moth", where Bill and his classmates in Ms. Murray's class are hatching pupas the school had gotten from a butterfly farm. While his friends have butterfly chrysalises, Little Bill has a moth cocoon. He is disappointed his doesn't hatch when the other butterflies do, so Ms. Murray allows him to take his cocoon home so he can see it hatch, if it does so in the evening. He grows more impatient with the cocoon, but when they talk about it during dinner, Little Bill gets a bit more interested (especially since his bigger brother Bobby is into moths.) Then right when he's about to go to sleep, the moth hatches from the cocoon, much to his excitement, and it turns out to be a Polyphemus moth (a very large moth native to North America with eyespots on its' wings), which greatly impresses Little Bill. Then the next day, Bill and his classmates set the butterflies and moth free into the sky. This gets bonus points for actually comparing butterflies and moths, and actually using the proper terms for their pupa stages.
    • Little Bear had an episode where caterpillars are infesting Mother Bear's garden and eating the cabbage, so Little Bear, Duck and the snake No Feet manage to lure the caterpillars away from the cabbage onto some other plant they enjoy eating away from the garden. Overnight, they go into their chrysalises, and the next day, Little Bear and his friends are amazed as the butterflies hatch and fly off. What's interesting here is that the caterpillars are based off the Imported Cabbage Worm, a caterpillar that does indeed feed on cabbage, and turns into the Cabbage White butterfly (which may very well be the most common butterfly in the United States.)
    • The Franklin episode "Franklin's Garden" grow attached to a caterpillar that was initially eating his small garden. He gets angry at it at one point for eating his flowers, and before he can apologize, the caterpillar goes into the chrysalis stage. Franklin checks it every morning, until at one point he looks and sees the empty shell; it's already hatched out! But then the butterfly flies up to Franklin and he recognizes it, and he is delighted.
    • Of course, this is also played with in A Bug's Life, with Heimlich the caterpillar longing to be a beautiful butterfly, but among completing pupation, he still resembles an obese caterpillar but with very tiny butterfly wings.

    As a real-life example, tis also often done in elementary schools to teach younger kids about the butterfly life cycle, usually using Painted Lady butterflies (a common specimen found everywhere across America that is quite easy to breed), that are then released into the wild among turning into butterflies (this may contribute to their being quite common.)
  • June 12, 2016
    We already have Butterfly Of Transformation.
  • June 12, 2016
    ^ Since it seems like that trope covers both the literalist and symbolic aspects, throwing in a bomb.