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How Does a Caterpillar Turn Into a Butterfly?

Updated on March 8, 2017
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My children and I have been raising butterflies indoors for several summers now.

The transformation of a caterpillar to a butterfly is absolutely fascinating. My children and I spend our summers raising butterflies indoors. We watch this spectacular event in the comfort of our own and share it with family and friends. So, now, let's take a look at how a caterpillar turns into a butterfly.

Butterfly Life Cycle Stages

Actually the butterfly egg comes before the caterpillar. The adult butterfly lays eggs which hatch in about 3-7 days. The young caterpillars start off eating and don't stop for 2-3 weeks. They grow tremendously during this time and will increase their body mass by a few thousand times.

Caterpillars grow so much that they will shed their exoskeleton several times. Some caterpillars actually change their appearance considerably from one molting to the next.

Once the caterpillars have grown big enough (usually about 2-3 weeks) they will be ready for their final molt, which will reveal the chrysalis. Some of the butterfly's features will start to form in their bodies as they prepare to pupate (become a chrysalis or pupa).

Chrysalis —Between Caterpillar and Butterfly

When the caterpillar is ready to shed its exoskeleton for the last time, it will find a place on a stem or branch and attach itself by spinning its own silk. Most caterpillars will hang upside down, but a few (Swallowtails) will attach alongside a stem and use a silk sling to hold themselves in place.

After the caterpillar is firmly attached, about 24 hours later it will wiggle like crazy and shed its exoskeleton revealing the chrysalis beneath. Although the chrysalis appears to be motionless, inside tremendous activity is taking place. The caterpillar's anatomy is being chemically disassembled and reconstructed into the adult butterfly. Amazing!

In about 1-2 weeks the adult butterfly will be ready to emerge.

The Butterfly Emerges From the Chrysalis

When the butterfly is ready to hatch, it will release hormones that soften the chrysalis' shell. The butterfly will push its way out of the chrysalis and cling to it with its wings hanging down.

The butterfly will be unable to fly as it pumps fluid from its body into its crumpled wings to harden them. After several hours the butterfly will be ready for its first flight. The transformation is now complete. The butterfly will mate, and the female will lay eggs thus beginning the fascinating cycle once again.

Have You Witnessed a Caterpillar Turning into a Butterfly? - We would love to hear any comments or questions!

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      Pei 2 years ago

      It's so amazing I really enjoy it!

      Last time I went to ASDA with my family and I saw a cocon.

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      anonymous 4 years ago

      Does the transformation from caterpillar to chrysalis take place on the same plant the caterpillar was feeding....in our case a dill plant? The caterpillars are gone but cannot find the chrysalis.

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      anonymous 4 years ago

      I came home last night and my boyfriend showed me the beginng cacoons of the caterpillars starting, I can't wait to see what happens in the next week to 2 weeks!!

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      anonymous 4 years ago

      I came home last night and my boyfriend showed me the beginng cacoons of the caterpillars starting, I can't wait to see what happens in the next week to 2 weeks!!

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      anonymous 4 years ago

      I just moved to oklahoma from texas on sat. We put our backyard swing up wed night. Thursday, I found an awesome looking caterpillar with black spikes on it climbing up our swing. I took a photo, and 4 hours later I came back out and it was hanging upside down with silk attaching it to the swing. Its upside down and curled at the head. I took another photo. I think it's a pretty neat welcoming gift from the little guy! Im going to snap a photo everyday to watch the transformation!

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      anonymous 4 years ago

      I just moved to oklahoma from texas on sat. We put our backyard swing up wed night. Thursday, I found an awesome looking caterpillar with black spikes on it climbing up our swing. I took a photo, and 4 hours later I came back out and it was hanging upside down with silk attaching it to the swing. Its upside down and curled at the head. I took another photo. I think it's a pretty neat welcoming gift from the little guy! Im going to snap a photo everyday to watch the transformation!

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      anonymous 4 years ago

      Really OMg

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      anonymous 4 years ago

      i have been collecting monarch caterpillars for years and watching them grow and change and releasing them, but this year have not found a single one even though we have hundreds of milkweed and butterfly weed for them. this is sad, but for the first time, i have eastern swallowtails, five are in chrysalis and the other one should go today, i am so looking forward to their release time!!!

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      anonymous 4 years ago

      I had seen once inside our room near the skylight.everyday I would come from school and see it.It was a caterpillar when I spotted.slowly it cocooned and a beautiful butterfly came out of it.even many years have passed.I still remember it.it was very fascinating for me.

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      anonymous 4 years ago

      we have been watching the formation of the chrysalis for over a week. There are 2 on the same outside plant in our yard....waiting

    • Xine profile image

      Xine 4 years ago

      We actually have a chrysalis on a sage plant on our deck that we discovered just hours after we found it as a caterpillar. We've been watching it closely and photographing it for 14 days now. It's still in its chrysalis right now but any day I guess it may shed its chrysalis shell!

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      anonymous 4 years ago

      I found a caterpillar hanging from my window frame last wednesday and watched it slowly turn into a chrysalis, its still there now, i keep checking it to hopefully see is break free, its very fascinating though.

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      anonymous 4 years ago

      @anonymous: omg you said that twice dump nut

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      anonymous 4 years ago

      Cool

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      anonymous 4 years ago

      @anonymous: Wow

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      anonymous 4 years ago

      Thanks !

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      anonymous 4 years ago

      Thank you you helped a lot

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      anonymous 4 years ago

      Thank you you helped a lot

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      anonymous 4 years ago

      I have what seems to be several chalcedon variable checkerspot catapillars feeding on one of my snapdragon plants. I'm excited to have them. Will they stay close by or maybe on the plant as they move through the stages of becoming a butterfly?

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      anonymous 4 years ago

      We live in South Florida and have caterpillars eating our milkweed now..There really aren't any trees or bushes close to the milkweed...Where will they go for the next phase?..How far will they travel?

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      anonymous 4 years ago

      it totally helps in my exams

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      anonymous 4 years ago

      I got a couple of caterpillars from a beech tree, I don't know what type they are, but I know they eat beech, I have it in a butterfly mesh net thing, percifically for butterflies, they are so cool. I love it, and wont grow out of it.

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      anonymous 4 years ago

      camila

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      anonymous 4 years ago

      We have hundreds of cateillars on our house right now making their cocoons or what ever it is called, getting ready to become a butterfly

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      anonymous 4 years ago

      We are raising Painted Lady's right now from a kit that we bought, The first two chrysalis' happened today, and we have 7 more caterpillars in the tank. Now the wait that we've all been anticipating. I will certainly do this again next spring.

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      anonymous 4 years ago

      My 6 year old son brought a caterpillar into the house in a plastic bug container. I thought he would keep it and feed it for a day or two and then release it. Well this morning we checked on him and he is wrapped up in a white silky blanket (as my son calls it) :) Were going to keep him safe and keep an eye on him until he turns into a butterfly and then release him out into the yard.

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      anonymous 4 years ago

      @anonymous: but your not: you suck.

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      anonymous 4 years ago

      @anonymous: yeah me now i had 5 caterpillar and i live in Mauritius so mine are very big now it is transforming into cocoon stage one of them grow very rapidly and now is a brown colour

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      anonymous 4 years ago

      im like a boss

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      anonymous 4 years ago

      this is sparta!!!!!!!!

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      anonymous 4 years ago

      I have one going through the transformation right now. It was a caterpillar yesterday and is now in a cocoon stage.

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      anonymous 4 years ago

      WoW!!!! This is Really Cool and Amazing..Thanks..:)

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      anonymous 4 years ago

      Wow this is AMAZING!!!!thanks I think I'm smarter now!!!!!!!!

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      anonymous 4 years ago

      This is AMAZING!!!thanks I think I'm smarter now

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      anonymous 4 years ago

      wow thank help heaps!

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      anonymous 4 years ago

      Yes. My family captured the process and made a video about it.

      www.youtube.com/watch?v=mQOFh1exp3A

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      anonymous 4 years ago

      that was so cool and i did not know that about catapillars at all and thaks to you now i know about a catapillar truning in to a burrterfly that was so cool .

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      anonymous 4 years ago

      @anonymous: it is

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      anonymous 4 years ago

      @anonymous: thats actually beautiful and nature is something we should wow at. those of you who don't have anything good to say then don't say anything bad either!!!!! yiu don't understand the beauty of nature

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      anonymous 4 years ago

      these pictures are truly revolting

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      anonymous 4 years ago

      @anonymous: me 2

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      anonymous 4 years ago

      @anonymous: well you must be an idiot because i'm 10 and this piece of work has helped me move up a grade in literacy as i used some of this info in my homework! p.s your very rude commenting on this lady's work like that!

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      anonymous 4 years ago

      Why the transformation from being a caterpillar into a butterfly is so fascinating to people? There are so many comments here! Well, I think it is what people want of their 'being', to be transformed into a state, where they can get out of the eating and growing just to be bigger, into a more essential being, experiencing another level, not crawling anymore in the dirt... So 'flying' indeed is the dream of humans and they could succeed on the physical level, but still not being at the state of having realized their transformation as *beings*. So obviously there is still quite some way to go...

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      Why the transformation from being a caterpillar into a butterfly is so fascinating to people? There are so many comments here! Well, I think it is what people want of their 'being', to be transformed into a state, where they can get out of the eating and growing just to be bigger, into a more essential being, experiencing another level, not crawling anymore in the dirt... So 'flying' indeed is the dream of humans and they could succeed on the physical level, but still not being at the state of having realized their transformation as *beings*. So obviously there is still quite some way to go...

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      anonymous 4 years ago

      Yes, I have observed a Caterpillar turning into a Butterfly. This is a *growing* process and in this one state of being transforms into another one. The state between Caterpillar and Butterfly is called "Cocoon". In this state the activities from before, mainly eating, had to stop and also the possibility to move around. This might be felt as being reduced like in a cage or straitjacket, but it is necessary to prepare the next state. The growing happens by itself! Then after its time, the cocoon will break and let free the butterfly, - to fly into the open space, beyond of any of the horizons of caterpillars and cocoons...

      I have been going through this growing as a human being and that's very similar as that as a caterpillar. Although humans get easily stuck in the state of a caterpillar and also in that of a cocoon, as they have already the image of the next state and then getting very frustrated when not being able to live this next state. For caterpillars it is much easier, as they just follow their growing state and letting it happen... Indeed they might be surprised, when suddenly they can *fly*!!!

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      anonymous 4 years ago

      @anonymous: this is crap and i am only 11 years old

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      anonymous 4 years ago

      this is crap and i am only 11 years old

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      anonymous 4 years ago

      I have one in my house now its so cool

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      anonymous 4 years ago

      joeeeee

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      anonymous 4 years ago

      this is so cool

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      anonymous 5 years ago

      we had a caterpillar and now its in its cacoon we are just waiting for it to come out as an butterfly

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      anonymous 5 years ago

      I have a chrisilis but it was not hanging would it be able to change into a butterfly lying down on bottom of container?

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      anonymous 5 years ago

      @anonymous: HAVE U EVER HEARD OF TWINS !!!!! DUH!

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      anonymous 5 years ago

      About a week ago my son's teacher @ his daycare showed me their find for the day, a huge lime green caterpillar which made me pretty squeemish. After a coouple days she showed it again and it had made its cocoon. I was amazed. So today it was still there, and I thought I'd research the web for how long before it comes out. Its kinda awesome!

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      anonymous 5 years ago

      this is so cool

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      anonymous 5 years ago

      I think so

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      anonymous 5 years ago

      no

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      anonymous 5 years ago

      @anonymous: i think so, but i'm really not sure.

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      anonymous 5 years ago

      Hello, a catterpillar crawled into my bedroom about a week ago and turned into a cocoon. I've been watching it everyday, looking for changes and this morning I wwoke up to find two butterflies flying around. But the cocoon doesn't look any different and I didn't have any windows open so they couldn't have come in from outside. Is it possible for one catterpillar to turn into two butterflies?

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      anonymous 5 years ago

      my teacher bought like about 6 butterflies and we watched them step by step as they went through their cycle

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      anonymous 5 years ago

      I have 5 chrysalis, the Black Swallowtail, after finding about 15 caterpillers devouring my parsley. Two have emerged. I found a website that said to give them a piece of orange for the 'sugar'. At what point are they OK to let go ourside?

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      anonymous 5 years ago

      my caterpillar is turning into a butterfly now.He was lime green and he is now in his cocoon I can't wait until he comes out I hope he is a very pretty butterfly please tell me if there is anything I should do i really want him to be alive and healthy cuz when he is out i will set him free:)

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      anonymous 5 years ago

      It is a very good website. Gives lots of information. Love it!

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      anonymous 5 years ago

      We have a caterpillar that is in jar and in his cacoon. Is there anything I need to do for him?

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      anonymous 5 years ago

      why those a catterpiller have to go through pupa stage

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      anonymous 5 years ago

      i love butterfly

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      anonymous 5 years ago

      i love caterpillars and butterfly

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      anonymous 5 years ago

      my caterpiller has grown in a cacoon today so next week it should be a cute pretty butterfly ;)

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      anonymous 5 years ago

      this ies so cool

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      anonymous 5 years ago

      I have millions of caterpillas on my tree outside in my garden. It has a black head and green body, what species is it?? thanks

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      anonymous 5 years ago

      I thank you for your evaluation which I will use in teaching a Bible study at a Senior Living Center. I call it "All Butterflies Go To Heavan" and equate the transformation of a caterpillar to a butterfly to the "Born Again" aspect of being a Christian. I got the idea from our Men's Pastor at Church and your articles assists me in teaching this subject. Thank you and may God Bless You.

      Tom

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      anonymous 5 years ago

      no

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      anonymous 5 years ago

      We have a grow your own butterfly kit; however, one butterfly is about to emerge while one is still just getting into his j-shape and they are both in the same plastic container. What do we do? That is, I am assuming I need to move the one out of the container but won't that harm the other that is still trying to change into a chrysalis?

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      anonymous 5 years ago

      it is good for science project

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      anonymous 5 years ago

      The last of the caterpillars just today crawled to the top of the store-bought butterfly kit and attached itself to the top of the plastic jar. Over a few hours, he became a pupa. Then, one of the kids knocked off the plastic jar onto the floor. Two are still suspended. One is on the floor of the plastic jar lying down and the last two are suspended in some of the silk hanging from the jar lid. Will any of these survive this sudden shock? Thanks.

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      anonymous 5 years ago

      we have a tiger swallowtail caterpillar here that changed into a chrysalis on mothersday - May 13 - and are awaiting to see it become a butterfly - do you know how long it will still take for the birth of the beautiful butterfly to happen ? thank you

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      anonymous 5 years ago

      I work in Pre

      K class we have the last two years buying caterpillars for our classroom and letting the children watch the events and let them draw what's going on and they really enjoy it its is really fun watching how they get excited every morning seeing what going on and what changed

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      anonymous 5 years ago

      yes i have a baby caterpilar and it became a pupa then SURPRIsE butterfly OMG it was beautiful

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      anonymous 5 years ago

      I have one at home as a science fair project its so cool.

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      anonymous 5 years ago

      @anonymous: Why.?

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      anonymous 5 years ago

      @anonymous: Stupido

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      anonymous 5 years ago

      cool i have one at school its the class pet but one day it made eggs it was so cool

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      anonymous 5 years ago

      it wiggled around, like it was in stress, it was just pure, it usually takes 1 and a half hours to fully come out.

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      anonymous 5 years ago

      me and my mom got a catapillar after seeing loads of them in our brociliy from tesco and then we got a piece and put itinto a container with the ctatpillar.at first we thought it was spurting out eggs but it was poo and then a week (or2 weeks) later it transformed into a cocoon....its still in a cocoon we will have to wait and see......

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      anonymous 5 years ago

      it is wounderful how catterpillars turn into butterfly.lol..........................

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      anonymous 5 years ago

      it is wounderful how catterpillars turn into butterfly.lol..........................

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      anonymous 5 years ago

      ihate butterflys

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      Peggy Hazelwood 5 years ago from Desert Southwest, U.S.A.

      I haven't seen this but it sounds fascinating to watch. Love this informational lens.

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      anonymous 5 years ago

      I love butterflies! To me they symbolize transformation! I use it on my website as a symbol of transformation by Jesus Christ. This is a lovely site and your info is great for homeschoolers!

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      victoriuh 5 years ago

      Yes! We did it in school years and years ago. I can't wait to hatch one with my daughter. Great lens and pics.

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      anonymous 5 years ago

      @anonymous: It is becoming a butterfly.

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      anonymous 5 years ago

      @anonymous: Who's god?

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      anonymous 5 years ago

      @anonymous: i no how can peple believe in evaltion it is crazy there must be something wrong with their brains

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      anonymous 5 years ago

      @anonymous: they only hatch in spring so it can take mounths and mounths

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      anonymous 5 years ago

      @anonymous: Maybe your caterpillar is now a butterfly, maybe not, but I hatched a butterfly once and it did this same thing. I believe it's normal.

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      anonymous 5 years ago

      We are trying to figure out what is happening to our catepillar. He or she lol we named "Tree" is starting to make some kind of web around him. What is going on?

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      anonymous 5 years ago

      heyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy

      n

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      anonymous 5 years ago

      Beautiful! God's own creation

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      anonymous 5 years ago

      o wow so cute teresabrett

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      Nemo32 6 years ago

      wat do i feed da caterpillar well it grows