Metamorphosis, literally

I’ve become so accustomed to speaking about particular things only in metaphor. Certain ideas just seem to belong to the world of philosophy and literature so much so that it almost surprises me to remember they began in nature. It’s undeniably a little egotistical, if perhaps understandable, to observe the world through the lens of your own experience, as if your own species was the only one to undergo significant transformation.

I was reminded of this fact in the most charming way possible, when a Facebook friend—an artist named Pacha Hornaday—began posting photos of a project of sorts, one that would help teach her two children Millie and Max about life, death, and transformation. This is how Pacha explained it to a friend on Facebook:

“ A friend of mine had milkweed plants outside and butterflies laid eggs on them. I bought a couple milkweed plants and got some caterpillars from her. I thought it would be cool for my daughter to watch the metamorphosis as she had been talking about the life cycle of a butterfly in school.”

Of course, the fact that all her adult friends on social media were equally enthralled, speaks volumes about the fact that learning doesn’t have to feel like work or effort, to the extent that I asked permission to post her photos and link to her Instagram page where there are more photos and video.

It all started with a caterpillar.


Unfortunately, not every caterpillar successfully makes it all the way through each phase of the metamorphosis, as you will see below. So this is mostly Coco’s story, since Coco is the caterpillar about to become a butterfly.

The segments of the text below that are in quotes were pulled from Pacha’s Instagram or Facebook page and help tell Coco’s story, as well as the story of the other ill-fated caterpillars.

“This morning a worried voice came from the living room: ‘Mami, look at the caterpillar!!!’ Millie thought it had died overnight. Turns out it’s just molting. We had talked about it before. I reminded her of that and her face lit up: ‘Yes, I think you’re right!’ This little guy is going to get pretty big soon…”

“Our little friend is hanging on the side if the flowerpot, desperately trying to wiggle himself out of his old skin…”

“Coco is a eating and pooping machine. Yes, that’s caterpillar poop on the floor.”


“Turns out that green drop in the last picture was caterpillar leaking out of its chrysalis. Today it’s all deflated with a black crusty spot at the bottom. No butterfly over here this time around. I’m still amazed how that huge caterpillar just disappeared like that. I wish I could liquefy at the end of this life cycle. All our hope is now on Coco!”


“Coco entered the J phase. We have to keep an eye on him now. He will pupate and molt into a chrysalis in the next 12-48 hours. Fingers crossed that he doesn’t have the parasite that will make him leak like his predecessor…”


Video footage of Coco the caterpillar eating.

“Coco did it! Of course over night again. But no leak this time! And now we wait…”

“From a twist tie. I had tied the plant to a stick because it was so thin and kept falling over… It’s funny that he chose that for hanging…”


“One more picture from the same angle as the rest of the pictures… I hope Coco waits to emerge till Millie gets home from school!”


“The chrysalis is almost completely dark now… Waiting in anticipation.”


Day 16. “Woke up to this. The suspense is killing me…”


“Well, I went and took a shower. It was to be expected, I suppose. But WELCOME COCO – in your third incarnation!!! Look how tiny his wings are. They’re all folded up still. We made it full circle!”



And that folks, is how it ends. Or, perhaps, how it begins.




  1. Wonderful! Thank you so much for sharing.

  2. This is so amazing – I loved this!

  3. Wow, so cool to view up close, and what an amazing experience to give to her child! Thanks for sharing!

  4. Decades ago, I had the best teacher of my entire education. Mrs. Crowley, my sixth grade teacher, was into “project-based learning” long before it was trendy. Watching this transformation from capturing the caterpillars to releasing the butterflies was one of the her projects. We lived in an area with milkweeds, so we gathered them ourselves. Eventually, we even gently unrolled the butterflies’ proboscis to help them drink honey water.

    Every September, from where I live now, I watch flocks of Monarchs travel past my windows. This teacher’s lessons have stuck with me the most fully and poetically. Thank you so much for sharing this. You have sparked great memories. (Your friend might want to try hatching pheasants next. . .)

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