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.
- 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.
- Many Tarot decks incorporate a butterfly into "Death," card 13 of the Major Arcana, which represents transformation and rebirth.
- 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.
- Vic Sage's Famous Last Words in 52 invoke this symbolism of butterflies. They are addressed to Renee and foreshadow her transformation into the new Question.
- Psylocke's telepathy is symbolized by butterflies, and her character has undergone tremendous change, having switched bodies, become Captain Britain, gained new psychic powers, and joined the X-Men.
- In Mutts, witnessing a catepillar go through it inspires thoughts of change, such as Mooch's observing that someday, Earl might become a cat.
- In the book/movie The Silence of the Lambs Jame Gumb keeps butterflies or moths, and they seem to symbolize his desire to transform into a woman.
- 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.
- In The Butterfly Effect, the main character keeps trying to change the present by fixing the past.
- The caterpillar in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland can be seen to serve this sort of symbolic function. For instance, at the end of the 2010 film, 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.
- The I Am Legend remake 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 forms than the old-fashioned humans. Keep in mind that the "better" form is eye of the beholder.
- In Cinderella, 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.
- In Gene Stratton-Porter's 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 Terry Pratchett's Discworld novel 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.
- The Animorphs book "The Departure" heavily feature the theme of a caterpillar, and later a butterfly. It is not a coincidence that this is where 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 Mode Lock of remaining more than two Earth hours in morph, something Cassie willingly did to make the Yeerk free her host.
- In Sarah Addison Allen's 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- In Doctor Who, the Second Doctor compared his regeneration to a renewal like a butterfly emerging from its chrysalis. Which is why the ring no longer fits.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Hilary Duff used this metaphor in the final page of her Metamorphosis album.
- Mariah Carey used a similar metaphor for her first album after her divorce from manager Tommy Mottola, Butterfly.
- 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.
- 1st Edition Dungeons & Dragons
- Player's Handbook. The Polymorph Other spell changed a creature into another type of creature. Its material component was a caterpillar cocoon.
- Oriental Adventures supplement. The Force Shapechange spell caused shapechangers to shift to their alternate form. The spell's material component was 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).
- 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.
- 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 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.
- In Pale Blue, the organization Cocoon uses butterflies as symbols of their goal to transform humanity from its ugly "larvae" state into beautiful butterflies through their actions. Their leader of Cocoon is even named after the Monarch butterfly.
- Fatal Frame II: Crimson Butterfly 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.
- 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.
- Butterfly symbolism is used extensively by a revolutionary group in Culpa Innata.
- In Sinfest, Fuschia is inspired by a butterfly as it means people can change. (Which she will have to do to win her love.) Her aspirations are shown by her fascination with them.
- And when the Buddha enlightens some Illuminati drones, they acquire butterfly wings.
- Crimney reflects on the possibilities of change, and a butterfly alights on him.
- Pooch watches a caterpillar start the process -- until it asks him to turn his back. Modest, you know.
- The green succubus, en route to her first day of work, has butterflies — she tells the drones with butterfly wings.
- xkcd parodies Transformers by having them pupate.
- In Darths & Droids, General Grievous explains why he became a cyborg by saying "The caterpillar sees not its destiny, except by fulfilling it. Only by shedding our previous bodies can we become beautiful butterflies."
- 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.
- Angel's Friends: Done literally with Dolce's butterfly familiar, Butterfly which she uses to transform into a human and back.
- A literal example in Miraculous Ladybug: Hawk Moth utilizes butterflies to feed off people's negative emotions and turn them into an Akuma.
- Groups relating to Transgender issues frequently have butterflies in their logos, and some versions of the Transgender pride flag have a butterfly on them.