Are Butterflies Two Different Animals in One?

Here’s a dangerous, crazy thought from an otherwise sober (and very eminent) biologist, Bernd Heinrich. He’s thinking about moths and butterflies, and how they radically change shape as they grow, from little wormy, caterpillar critters to airborne beauties. Why, he wondered, do these flying animals begin their lives as wingless, crawling worms? Baby ducks have wings. Baby bats have wings. Why not baby butterflies?

His answer — and I’m quoting him here — knocked me silly.

“[T]he radical change that occurs,” he says, “does indeed arguably involve death followed by reincarnation.”


Interesting article, it reminded me of Lynn Margulis’ Endosymbiotic theory. Heinrich suggest that butterflies are actually chimaeras, the combination of two different species that mated at some point and now perform serial processing of DNA.

The article mentions that some scientists deeemed the theory unprovable, but to me it doesn’t seem to be the case. I would at least investigate the problem using a game theory analysis of the two competing species — what if the caterpillar “refuses” to go into a cocoon? Do they need the butterflies to mate? It’s an interesting problem.

I also personally liked the drawings in the article. 🙂

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