I suppose the above title might lead the reader to think that I am about to expound the miracle of metamorphosis – how a caterpillar changes into a butterfly – and its spiritual significance to a believer. And I grant that it would be a goodly theme. But such is not the purpose of this paper. In it I am only interested in researching the behaviour of the caterpillar, and for very good reasons which will become apparent as we proceed.Butterflies lay millions of eggs. If all of them were to come to maturity as adult insects, the world would be overrun by them. But there is a phenomenal loss at every stage, due to predators, lack of food, bad environmental conditions, and freak weather. Entomologists tell us that as the population of each variety of butterfly remains more or less constant, only one pair finally wins through for each mating pair. All the rest fall by the wayside.
So what happens in the life of a caterpillar before it turns into a chrysalis? Is it just a case of emerging from the egg and eating and growing until it is of full size? I suppose most people would, at a guess, think along such lines. The fact that such assertions are far from the truth means that we need to learn from those who have made a detailed study of insect behaviour. What I have learned from the textbooks has made such an impression on me, that I would like to share with you the story of “Caterpillar Magic.”
The newly emerged caterpillar probably starts its life by eating the egg-case from which it has just hatched. Apparently the case contains vital ingredients necessary to its growth. From that moment onwards there is vigorous and continuous growth. The size of the Larva increases at an amazing rate. But this soon produces problems. (At least we might put it that way. The problems are not arbitrary, but part of the Master’s design.)
In point of fact the insect’s skin becomes too tight to allow any further expansion, and so it stops eating for a short while so as to perform an amazing experiment. From its tiny brain two distinct hormones are secreted into the body, the effect of which causes the twin layers of its skin to separate. The outer skin is called the CUTICLE, and the inner skin the EPIDERMIS. The cuticle is tough and cannot expand any further, but the epidermis is soft. Then into the space between these layers a digestive juice of enzymes is injected, called the MOULTING FLUID. This has a double effect. In the first place, about 90% of the cuticle is gradually dissolved into the fluid, and secondly, the epidermis grows in size. But of course, there is no room for such growth, and therefore as it takes place, it has to wrinkle to find room to develop.
At this stage, all that is good from the cuticle has been reabsorbed into the body, and conditions are ready for the MOULT. The cuticle is made to burst by the caterpillar taking in quantities of air and “blowing itself up”. The crack occurs along a line of weakness designed for that purpose. On emerging, the caterpillar now has the freedom for its skin to grow, and by taking in more air the body is literally blown up in size until the new skin (the original epidermis) is smoothed out from its wrinkled state.
As soon as this process is complete, the caterpillar begins its voracious eating programme once again. Little further growth of the skin occurs. Internal consolidation takes place until the outer skin once again becomes too tight. And so the process repeats itself, and during the time it takes to reach maturity as a caterpillar, some five or six of these moults occur.
The following graph shows how the actual size of the caterpillar changes during its life. The proper name given to the moult is ECDYSIS, and the inbetween stages are called INSTARS. Therefore the first instar lasts from hatching to the first moult, or ecdysis; and the second instar from then until the next ecdysis, and so on.
A graph reveals that quite the majority of the caterpillar’s growth occurs during ecdysis, whilst the in-between stages, or instars, show merely the consolidation of what. has just been achieved And so we learn that far from a gradual steady growth programme, the caterpillar grows in distinct “steps” until it reaches maturity at the point P on the diagram, which stands for PUPATION, or chrysalis-forming.
There is no natural reason why growth should occur in this manner. It cannot be explained by the theory of evolution. By that bankrupt theory one might have expected a less hazardous process to occur, but this is not so. And when it comes to thepupal stage (the chrysalis), it is far from being “the survival of the fittest”, in fact can anything be quite so fragile and easily destroyed as a dead-looking chrysalis? No, there must be a Mind behind all these magical mysteries. Why should the God of Creation have designed the caterpillar to grow in such a manner? Can we enter into the rationale behind the magic, and ask the Creator to reveal His purposes? I think we can. But before asking such questions, there is more science to learn.
I spoke of TWO hormones being secreted from the brain of the caterpillar to induce moulting. Why two? The first is called the MOULTING HORMONE, and the second the JUVENILE HORMONE. When BOTH hormones are injected into the body of the caterpillar, then ecdysis occurs, but if only the moulting hormone is injected, the chrysalis phase is triggered off. Scientists have tested this by causing a fully-grown caterpillar to enter an EXTRA moult by injecting the juvenile hormone from another insect. The result is an over-sized caterpillar, which then produces an extra large butterfly. Conversely, the tiny gland that houses the juvenile hormone may be removed BEFORE the insect is fully grown, and then pupation occurs at an earlier stage, producing a smaller version of the butterfly. In neither case does any benefit accrue to the butterfly. Neither the extra large nor the smaller variety possess characteristics which might be called an “improvement”. Both are usually less able to live as normal adults.
But in the fossil records, butterfly imprints have been found which are many times the size of butterflies as we know them today. I would hazard a suggestion that before the flood, the Lord ordered many more ecdyses to occur than is the current allowance. Hence the final size of the caterpillars would have been very much bigger than we know them. Just as man’s life span was reduced to about one twelfth of what it used to be, so also in the animal world there has been a commensurate reduction.
So much for the science. What can we learn from it? Has it any pictorial teaching for us? I believe it has, but more than likely it is one of those “hidden things”, of which I wrote in the last paper.
The caterpillar’s life was punctuated by rather dramatic changes. There was nothing steady about the way in which it grew in size. What happens in our own lives? Could it he that the Lord desires to engineer our circumstances so that we can grow to full manhood, and that this will require times of dramatic change? I wonder how many of our readers, on looking back over many years of Christian experience, might find a pattern rather similar to that of the caterpillar. Let me illustrate what I mean.
As a young Christian in my early twenties I was introduced to a form of teaching which gave me a mighty thrust towards deep Bible study. Before this I had been in the midst of a great deal of evangelistic work with a then well known preacher. I decided to quit the evangelistic scene and devote myself to study. Being young, I did so without very much grace towards those I left behind! But as I look back now, I can see very clearly the necessity of that change, and what it did for me over subsequent years. This is not to “knock” evangelist work. God forbid! But each one of us needs to follow the clear leading of the Lord through our lives. Some are “evangelists”, whilst others are “teachers”, and each has a place in the Lord’s work. I see, looking back, that the Lord was calling me to a teaching ministry rather than to an evangelistic ministry.
What was this but an “ecdysis“? I left behind the old “skin” and within a brief space of time found a great “expansion “in my Christian life, a vigorous growth for which I still thank the Lord. But as with the caterpillar, very little of the previous “skin” was shed. Most of it was absorbed into my system. And that which had been shed was not “bad”, any more than the caterpillar’s previous skin was bad. It was something that had served its purpose and now had to be shed.
This has not been the only such change in my circumstances. Neither has it been static in the lives of my wife and I as a married couple. We can look back to several occasions when a quite dramatic change has occurred, and each time the “new” situation brought about a rapid growth in the understanding of the things of the Lord.
It is because of this evaluation of our own experience in the light of the “caterpillar magic” that I felt constrained to write this article, And I think it may be helpful to some, who might have thought that God required them to be “static” as a sign of being “stable”. But these two things are not necessarily the same. I am reminded of the day in which I was idly playing with my wrist-watch, and the Lord spoke to me very clearly. He said, “My church is like your watch.” (Incidentally, it is an automatic, self-wind watch.) “As long as there is continual movement, there is growth, but with no change the church becomes like your watch which would simply wind down and stop.”
Often these days one hears about splits in churches. Some want to go a new way, but others choose rather to retain their traditional stance. And there is often a degree of condemnation towards those who opt out, and begin something new by themselves. And again, one hears that such divisions occur with a little acrimony and disharmony amongst the brethren, just like my own example referred to above. But should we rather look upon such happenings in a more mature light? Perhaps the Lord is urging some to move, whilst others are not ready for it? And knowing our propensity for uncharitable behaviour “in the flesh” it is often a time of regret, re-evaluation, separation between erstwhile friends, and so on. Rather than bewail the situation, the “caterpillar magic” should guide us into a more generous-spirited attitude, to realise that probably neither group was in the wrong. It was just that God was “shaking up His automatic watch” to ensure that it didn’t run down and go to sleep!
In the New Testament there may be a part of our Lord’s teaching which is very similar to this. He spoke on one occasion about not putting pieces of new cloth on old garments, and not putting new wine into old bottles. On examining the Greek of this passage, I found that the “new” cloth was in fact “unfulled, uncarded, or unshrunk” cloth. In other words if it was used to patch up an older garment, then as soon as it was washed, the new piece would shrink, and create a rent worse than that it was intended to mend. Similarly the “new wine” was very active, and not yet suitable for consumption, thereby making people light-headed and a bit “merry”. This activity would very soon react on an old skin, and cause it to burst. Better to keep BOTH separate, so that nothing is lost.
Can this help us here? Take the church situation once again. Polarisation has occurred, and a split formed. Does one try to “patch it up”? The answer must be “NO”. It is far better for each group to go its own way, whereby BOTH are preserved. Because God is the Lord of each group, He loves each member as dearly. If we try to establish a false unity between groups, then the outcome may even be destructive to the whole. The new wine AND the old skin are lost in the exercise. Perhaps the urge to retain an apparent “unity” was ill-conceived. In thinking that the Devil had created the split, it could well have been that God was urging some of His children on in a different direction.
In saying this, I am of course aware that our enemy is always at work causing divisions, but a little more understanding may be necessary to perceive just WHO is responsible for circumstances in church settings. Luther didn’t want to leave the Catholic church, but nevertheless he was forced out. Wesley never wanted to leave the Anglican church but he was given no option eventually but to meet outside the Anglican communion. It takes a bit of quiet reflection to see the hand of the Lord at work, even in times of trouble, dissention, polarisation, schism, and division. I hope that the above analysis may be helpful to those who might have harboured ill-feelings towards others with whom they can no longer meet for fellowship.