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Butterfly of Transformation

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You'll be changing, too, Lil' E.

"If nothing ever changed, there would be no butterflies."

Sometimes butterflies are portents of total rebirth. Sometimes they are just pretty.

And sometimes their history of metamorphosis is used to show transformations less drastic than total rebirth. (Because butterflies are also ethereal and can fly, if this is a moral transformation, it is more likely to be a Heel–Face Turn than the other way around.)

Caterpillars can also work, and bonus points for the entire transformation in story. Moths can also be used, but then you don't get Pretty Butterflies, and besides, moths are nocturnal (fictionally, at least), and you know what that means.

Super-Trope of Butterfly of Death and Rebirth. For seemingly minor events that cause great situational changes, see Butterfly of Doom. Compare Macabre Moth Motif.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • In Sailor Moon, a butterfly motif is heavily featured in the titular heroine's "Crisis Make Up!" Transformation Sequence which sees her power up from Sailor Moon into Super Sailor Moon in the third season Sailor Moon S. This is not only touches on this trope but also draws on the way the Butterfly of Death and Rebirth trope is used elsewhere in the season, a particularly evocative version shows up using the power of the Sailor Soldiers themselves rather than via the usual Holy Grail Transformation Trinket that was in hands of the enemies in the penultimate episode of the season which is given its own animation.
  • Butterflies are one of the motifs of Yes! Pretty Cure 5. A butterfly has to land on the chosen human's wrist to become the Cure's Transformation Trinket, and the phrase used to turn into one for that team is "Precure, Metamorphose!".

  • Psyche and Cupid (Bouguereau): In both "Cupid and Psyche as Children" and "The Rapture of Psyche", Psyche is characterized as possessing moth wings to represent her metamorphosing into a goddess, as though emerging from a chrysalis.

    Card Games 
  • Many Tarot decks incorporate a butterfly into "Death," card 13 of the Major Arcana, which represents transformation and rebirth.

    Comic Books 
  • Vic Sage's last words in 52 invoke this symbolism of butterflies. They are addressed to Renee and foreshadow her transformation into the new Question.
  • Evoked in a Marvel Comics story of The Inhumans, with one Inhuman petitioning to be exposed (re-exposed) to the mutagenic Terrigen Mists mainly because she's ugly and hoping for a better genetic draw. She emerges as a butterfly woman.
  • X-Men: Psylocke's telepathy is symbolized by butterflies, and her character has undergone tremendous change, having switched bodies, become Captain Britain (twice), gained new psychic powers (twice), and joined the X-Men. Her successor Kwannon inherited the butterfly motif via a Retcon; she views her changes post-revival as a metaphorical rebirth, fitting the sub-trope of Butterfly of Death and Rebirth.

    Comic Strips 
  • In Mutts, witnessing a catepillar go through it inspires thoughts of change, such as Mooch's observing that someday, Earl might become a cat.

    Fan Works 

    Films — Animation 
  • At the end of Bambi II, Bambi has lost his spots, his antlers are starting to grow and most importantly, he has an improved relationship with his father. A butterfly lands on the entwined sprouts growing nearby.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • At the end of Alice in Wonderland (2010), Alice has been somewhat transformed by her experiences in Wonderland, and this is symbolized by the caterpillar (called Absolem in this adaptation) appearing on her shoulders in the form of a butterfly and doing a Fly-at-the-Camera Ending.
  • In The Butterfly Effect, the main character keeps trying to change the present by fixing the past.
  • In Cinderella (2015), Cinderella's gown from the Fairy Godmother has butterfly decorations around the neckline, as well as on her shoes, as a motif of her transformation.
  • I Am Legend features the motif of a butterfly quite often. In the released film, it doesn't amount to anything; however, in the original ending, it represented that that the Dayseekers weren't mindless, evil zombies, but sentient beings that had transformed into a better form than the old-fashioned humans. Keep in mind that "better" is in the eye of the beholder.
  • The hero of Kung Fu Hustle gets entirely wrapped in bandages like a cocoon, which he discards as a shell, his Chi finally unblocked and his destiny awaiting. During this transformation, we are briefly treated to the imagry of a butterfly emerging from a cocoon to drive the point home.
  • Rose's butterfly comb and kimono with wing-like sleeves in Titanic (1997) serve as symbols of her change into a confident woman in control of her own destiny. The butterfly motif is explicitly stated in a piece of dialogue that was later cut from the film.
    Old Rose: Can you exchange one life for another? A caterpillar turns into a butterfly. If a mindless insect can do it, why couldn't I?

  • In The Adventures of Caterpillar Jones, C.J.'s journey is both a literal and symbolic form of this trope, as he literally transforms from caterpillar to butterfly and, in doing so, symbolically lets go of what's holding him back and embraces his new life.
  • The Animorphs book The Departure heavily features the theme of a caterpillar, and later a butterfly. It is not a coincidence that this is when Cassie meets a surprisingly sympathetic yeerk, one willing to give up her host body if Cassie is willing to experience the rest of her life as a Yeerk... or the closest thing at hand: a caterpillar. This, along with Cassie's continued realisation that the world isn't as black and white as she thought, signifies change. It also brings up the fact that natural metamorphosis can somehow undo the Shapeshifter Mode Lock of remaining more than two Earth hours in morph, something Cassie willingly did to make the Yeerk free her host.
  • If one goes with the interpretation that the title of Chrysalis (Beaver Fur) refers to the smooth, elongated form of the Terran's mechanical outer shell, it can then be extrapolated that the Terran's destruction, and thus emergence from their cocoon, are evocative of the rebirth of humanity in machine form. The epilogue reveals the Terran was revived from their fragments and placed back into a humanoid body, as well.
  • In Freckles, Freckles watches in wonder as a Luna moth comes from its cocoon and feels deeply frustrated at his ignorance at what it is, though he knows it's not a butterfly. This causes him to ponder his ignorance, until it dawns on him that he could find out these things.
  • In The Girl Who Chased The Moon, when Emily's wallpaper changed for the first time, it changes to butterflies. They seemed trapped and wanting to escape. She had just learned things about the town that make it hard for her to stay. Though neither the butterflies nor she manage to get away.
  • Harry Potter: An Animagus is a wizard or witch who can voluntarily transform into an animal and back, but the process of becoming one is long and complex. It involves a special potion, which, according to supplementary materials, requires (among other things) the chrysalis of a death's-head hawkmoth.
  • In Making Money, Cosmo Lavish uses a caterpillar becoming a butterfly as a symbol of his own planned transformation. His sister Pucci tells him that what actually happens is a caterpillar dies and a butterfly grows out of the remains.
  • In The Silence of the Lambs, Jame Gumb keeps butterflies or moths, and they seem to symbolize his desire to transform into a woman.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In Babylon 5, Delenn uses a butterfly-like cocoon to transform into a half-human half-Minbari. During the transformation, the security team exploited the trope by telling the traitor that it she became beautiful as she left the cocoon, as if she was a butterfly with wings.
  • Doctor Who: In "The Power of the Daleks", after finding that his previous incarnation's ring no longer fits him, thus making it look easier to believe that he's an impostor (he's not), the Second Doctor compares his regeneration to a butterfly emerging from its chrysalis, stating that attempting to prove he's still the Doctor by donning his old ring is like trying to shove an adult butterfly back into its pupa.
    Doctor: I'd like to see a butterfly fit into its chrysalis case after it's spread its wings!
    Polly: Then you did change!
    Doctor: Life depends on change and renewal. I've been renewed. It's part of the TARDIS. Without it, I couldn't survive.
    Polly: [to Ben] It's a very different Doctor, then.
  • Kamen Rider Fourze pulls this in The Movie with Inazuman, another Shotaro Ishinomori creation. At first, Saburo Kazeta is a bitter young man who hates "normal humans" for shunning him due to his psychic powers, which include transforming into the larval Sanagiman. Fourze gives him a heart-to-heart (which outright includes the butterfly metaphor) which leads to Saburo pulling a Heel–Face Turn, at which point Sanagiman "molts" into Inazuman, complete with radiant wings.
  • A moth emerging from its cocoon was used in an early episode of Lost as a metaphor for Charlie weaning himself off drugs. Made very explicit by Locke.
  • Tales of the City (2019): Tommy spots Anna in a shop, coveting a scarf decorated with butterflies, and buys it for her. Later, when he learns that she is trans, he offers to save up and pay for her gender confirmation surgery.
  • In the "Bridezilla" episode of ABC's What Would You Do?, a woman asks her bridesmaids to wear purple dresses to which she has appended butterfly wings, as a symbol of transformation through her marriage.

  • David Byrne: In "Now I'm Your Mom", the narrator, a post-op transgender woman, compares her transition to the process of a caterpillar metamorphosing into a butterfly.
  • Mariah Carey used a similar metaphor for her first album after her divorce from manager Tommy Mottola, Butterfly.
  • Hilary Duff used this metaphor in the final page of her Metamorphosis album.
  • Using a dragonfly rather than a butterfly, the Ego Likeness album Dragonfly has a theme of personal rebirth and the cover art depicts the eponymous insect.
  • Rie fu's song "Butterfly" is appropriately about personal transformation. It's on one of the two albums she released to celebrate ten years of being a musician, and its official music video features clips of women holding up signs with advice written on them that they wish they knew when they were young.
  • Marilyn Manson's Antichrist Superstar album is a narrative about a child's transformation into the antichrist (a controversial rock star). The song cycle is broken into three parts according to the life cycle of an insect, and the album art depicts him in stylised versions of all three stages, including one with a set of wings.

    Tabletop Games 
  • In CthulhuTech, the Chrysalis Corporation uses a butterfly as its symbol. It's run by an Eldritch Abomination and, most relevantly for this trope, turns people into monsters.
  • 1st Edition Dungeons & Dragons:
    • The Polymorph Other spell from the Player's Handbook changes a creature into another type of creature. Its material component is a caterpillar cocoon.
    • The Force Shapechange spell from the Oriental Adventures supplement causes shapechangers to shift to their alternate form. The spell's material component is a butterfly cocoon.

  • In Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (the 2013 West End musical), Willy Wonka has an I Am What I Am song, "Simply Second Nature", in which he explains his inborn need to create beautiful (if strange to some) things. At one point, a sudden wave of his cane reveals a butterfly perched upon it, which continues this adaptation's running motif of humble things that contain/conceal great beauty and possibility (tying in to the Central Theme of the transformative power of imagination).

    Video Games 
  • In BioShock 2, Rapture's change as "better" society fueled by Dr. Lamb's extreme altruistic view are symbolized by a blue butterfly that is worn by most of the members of the Rapture family and it appears in most of the city. A lot of the graffiti with this motif also reads: "We will be reborn in the cold womb of the ocean. She is our savior". Turns out more literal than you would think, as Lamb's plan is using her own daughter as a "database" of the population of Rapture to create a human completely driven to benefit a group in its entirety.
  • The Breach: The... whatever it is the jumpship found on its trip is a huge creature with butterfly wings, who slowly transforms the crew into insectile mutants. Some of the enemies encountered are giant butterflies with human heads (and annoying to kill because they move at an angle).
  • Butterfly symbolism is used extensively by a revolutionary group in Culpa Innata.
  • In Cultist Simulator, the symbol of the Change Ambition is a butterfly cocoon, and advancing the Ambition card gradually hatch it to reveal a pretty butterfly emerging from it. However, the descriptions of what actually happens are anything but pretty.
  • Fatal Frame II has butterflies everywhere as the motif associated with the twins of All God's Village, referring to the death-and-rebirth interpretation, the identical-halves-of-one being interpretation, and ultimately ending on the transformation interpretation: the souls of the sacrificed twins literally become butterflies. Mayu is released from the "cocoon" of her body by the red, wing-shaped handprints Mio leaves on her throat.
  • In Fallout, the experiments to turn humans into Super Mutants was conducted at the Mariposa Military Base. Mariposa is Spanish for Butterfly.
  • The fourth entry in the Gears of War series introduces JD Fenix and Kat talking about how a cocooned butterfly changes its shape just before they go on a raid. This is foreshadowing for the reveal that the Locust Horde was not entirely entirely destroyed at the end of the third game and have returned in stronger forms and are converting humans into the Swarm through cocoons.
  • This is part of Morph Moth's gimmick in Mega Man X2. He starts the fight in a cocoon suspended on a thread, and after taking enough damage he, appropriately enough, metamorphosizes into a fully grown robot moth.
  • In No Umbrellas Allowed, Jane establishes the Garden of Cocoons to help "rehabilitate" Fixies, or people who are emotionally suppressed by the Fixer drug. She believes that they're just in their cocoons and are waiting to come out and be reborn as "Saeras". Ending 15's epilogue shows Saeras as fairy-like people bursting out of their cocoons with butterfly wings.
  • In the Persona series, the golden butterfly is symbolic of Philemon, the deity that allows the heroes to tap into their Personas. According to Word of God, in the later games in the series he actually appears as a blue butterfly with an implied similar, if lesser, function, although neither the characters nor any narrator identifies him.

    Visual Novels 
  • In the endgame of Spirit Hunter: NG, when the child-like Kakuya forces herself to become 'grown-up', the resultant body is littered with butterfly wings to symbolize her transformation.


    Western Animation 

    Real Life 
  • Groups relating to Transgender issues frequently have butterflies in their logos, and some versions of the Transgender pride flag have a butterfly on them.