John T. Willis

Sunday, September 20, 2009


Here in West Texas, from March to November, we are abundantly blessed by a constant flow of all kinds of butterflies: large and small, all types of colors, intricate shapes.

A butterfly is an insect of the order Lepidoptera. It is notable for its unusual life cycle in four stages. Most species of butterflies fly during the day, so they regularly attract attention. Once or twice a year, a large horde of monarch butterflies come through Abilene and surrounding areas. Many make butterflies a hobby, and make butterfly collections because butterflies have brightly colored wings and their graceful flight is erratic. Butterflies comprise the true butterflies (superfamily Papilionoidea), the skippers (superfamily Hesperioidea), and the moth-butterflies (superfamily Hedyloidea). Some species of butterflies migrate for long distances. They are very important economically as agents of pollination.

Stage 1--The Egg. Butterfly eggs consist of a hard-ridged outer layer of shell, called the chorion. This is lined with a thin coating of wax preventing the egg from drying out before the larve has had time to fully develop. Each egg contains a number of tiny funnel-shaped openings at one end, called micropyles, to allow sperm to enter and fertilize the egg. Butterfly eggs are attached to a leaf with a special glue which hardens rapidly. As it hardens, it contracts, deforming the shape of the egg. The glue is so hard that the silk pad cannot be separated. Most butterflies lay their eggs near winter in preparation for a hibernation until spring.

Stage 2--The Larva. The larva is a caterpillar. It eats leaves; eating is its primary purpose. Caterpillars mature through a series of stages called instars. At the end of each instar, the larve undergoes a process called apolysis, in which the cuticle, a mixture of chitin and specialized proteins, is released from the epidermis and the epidermis begins to form a new cuticle beneath. At the end of each instar, the larve moults the old cuticle, and the new cuticle rapidly hardens and pigments. Development of butterfly wing patterns begins by the last larval instar. Butterly caterpillars have three pairs of true legs from the thoracic segments and up to six pairs of prolegs arising from the abdominal segments. These prolegs have rings of tiny hooks called crochets that help them grip the substrate. Some caterpillars have the ability to inflate parts of their heard to appear like a snake. Near pupation, the wings are forced outside the epidermis under pressure from the hemolymph, and although they are initially quite flexible and fragile, by the time the pupa breaks free of the larval cuticle they have adhered tightly to the outer cuticle of the pupa. Within hours, the wings form a cuticle so hard and well-joined to the body that pupae can be picked up and handled without damage to the wings.

Stage 3--Pupa. When the larva is fully grown, hormones such as prothoracicotropic hormone are produced. The larva then stops feeding and begins wandering in quest of a suitable pupation site, often underneath a leaf. The larva transforms into a pupa or chrysalis by anchoring itself to a substrate and moulting for the last time. To transform from the miniature wings visible on the outside of the pupa into large structures usable for flight, the pupal wings undergo rapid mitosis and absorb many nutrients. In the pupa, the wing forms a structure that becomes compressed from top to bottom and pleated from proximal to distal ends as it grows, so that it can rapidly be unfolded to its full adult size.

Stage 4--Adult or Imago. Adult butterflies have four wings covered with tiny scales. The fore and hindwings are not hooked together, permitting a more graceful flight. An adult butterly has six legs.

As I marvel as this metamorphosis leading to the production of a beautiful butterfly, I have to bow before the Creator of the Universe to invent, produce, bring about, and complete such a creature. Just this one creature demonstrates the power and wisdom and love of our God.

There is also another "metamorphosis" or "transformation" in human hearts. We all begin as children, grow into children, grow into puberty, grow into adulthood, marry, and have our own children, and grandchildren, and great grandchildren. Similarly, we begin our spiritual life in infancy; slowly, we become more mature; little by little, more mature; becoming more and more like God desires us to be. Passages like 1 Corinthians 3:1-4 and Hebrews 5:11-6:8 admonish God's people to sluff off the old way of life and move forward to "perfection." Here is one snippet from Hebrews 5:12-14:

"For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic elements of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food; for everyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is unskilled in the word of righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, for those whose faculties have been trained by practice to distinguish good from evil."

Where are YOU in your spiritual GROWTH? God constantly desires to transform everyone of us. If YOU are where you are where you were a year ago, five years ago, ten years ago, you need to change. NO ONE has arrived. We all have a long way to get where God wants us to buy. One cannot grow without changing. It may be time for YOU and ME to change. We can learn much from butterflies.

How do YOU respond? Share your ideas with others. Let me hear from YOU.

John Willis


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