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June 30, 2006

Advising the Adviser

Olivia Judson, author of Dr. Tatiana's Sex Advice To All Creation, has been writing a Times Select blog for the past couple of weeks, and doing a bang-up job of it. Her final post ends with a series of phenomena she finds perplexing, one of which I found so striking I wanted to post it here:

The first is metamorphosis. Everyone knows a caterpillar becomes a butterfly; and it is easy to work out why it might be useful to split your life between growing (caterpillar) and loving (butterfly). But what I find peculiar is the manner of becoming a butterfly: within the pupa, the caterpillar breaks down its body, including much of its brain, and reconstitutes itself along different lines. It’s a kind of reincarnation. I’d love to know how this evolved.

So would I. Nature is teh weird.

June 30, 2006 | Permalink


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the other interesting part of the butterfly's metamorphosis, is that it must free itself from the chrysalis, without any help.
if you try to break it...you will destroy it.
....a national day of butterfly contemplation
might be just what we need.
we turn off our computers in unison,
WALK to the nearest meadow or garden,
and be still/silent with our thoughts.
would it ever be possible to stop our chattering
and watch the monarchs and swallowtails?

Posted by: jacqueline | Jun 30, 2006 10:31:20 AM

away from the divisive world
of practical and endless thinking...
it should be required to take a moment
and contemplate the life of a butterfly...
.....each fragile butterfly has over a thousand muscles.
they have six legs...and they taste with their feet.
some can fly as fast as thirty miles an hour...
they smell with their antennae...
and for all of the etheric quality of their journey...
for all of their mysterious passages...
they live only as dazzling butterflies
for about two weeks.
....and so,
as we flail and argue in this etheric world,
it is a good thing
to consider the butterflies.
more bliss.

Posted by: jacqueline | Jun 30, 2006 10:54:34 AM

"Between growing (caterpillar) and loving (butterfly)"? Eh? Is there a context provided in which this makes sense - some sort of dubious conflation of insect reproduction with "love" - or does Dr. Tatiana assume that because the caterpillar looks kinda nasty, it clearly isn't as full of love as the pretty, pretty butterfly?

Posted by: Iron Lungfish | Jun 30, 2006 10:55:01 AM

I think the process is similar to changing a conservative into a Republican, but the brain doesn't fully reconstitute in the process.

The hot thing today in science: Evolutionary Development (Evo Devo). Fascinating stuff. Noting is weird is except life itself.

Posted by: JimPortlandOR | Jun 30, 2006 10:59:44 AM

by the way...
lungfish create cocoons too.....
....i dont think there is a dichotomy...
the cocoon and the butterfly...
the entire cycle is about loving and growing.
in the dark of the chrysalis
and in the light.

Posted by: jacqueline | Jun 30, 2006 11:02:39 AM

haha jim...that was a funny one!!!

Posted by: jacqueline | Jun 30, 2006 11:05:17 AM


Judson isn't a dummy- it is figurative.

Dr. Tatiana is an awesome book; I recommend it for anyone who tires of talking politics. It always does the trick for me at lunch. I can bust out bizarre stories about dragonfly penises and stick-bug buggery.

Posted by: TJ | Jun 30, 2006 11:11:32 AM

Foot-long bat-hunting centipedes are pretty awesome too, in a primordial nightmare kind of way....

Posted by: sglover | Jun 30, 2006 11:27:38 AM

in thinking about the original question..
wondering why the butterfly evolved as it did...
i am sure
there is a scientific explanation,
a poetic observation,
an esoteric theory...
but arent they all just approximations?
is there ever a place of absolute certainty
with anything?
with butterflies, centipedes, glassfish, hummingbirds...
it is a good thing
to leave a place in the discussion
for just honoring the mystery.

Posted by: jacqueline | Jun 30, 2006 11:41:17 AM

Metamorphosis is very common in the insect world, so I would assume that the ancestors of butterflies underwent metamorphosis long before they evolved into something we would recognize as a butterfly.

Posted by: Kenneth Almquist | Jun 30, 2006 2:54:05 PM

What Kenneth said. Caterpillars are pupae with legs. I suggest you (and Judson) read Sean Carroll's book on evo-devo: Endless Forms Most Beatiful.

Posted by: Ginger Yellow | Jul 3, 2006 9:01:30 AM

Ginger, Kenneth,

Judson is an evolutionary biologist.

Posted by: TJ | Jul 4, 2006 12:08:35 AM

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