It is not uncommon for a film about the natural world to fill us with a genuine sense of awe. We look at the majesty of the world around us and can’t help but find ourselves blessed to be able to witness that magnificence. And when it comes to the minute details of the animal kingdom, not only can we appreciate beauty, but we are left in awe when we consider the incredible complexity behind the spectacles. And it is no different when we consider the butterfly. The latest Illustra Media film titled Metamorphosis released in mid 2011 takes a deep look into the life of butterflies and metamorphosis with stunning high quality footage, inspiring music, and commentary from today’s leading scholars in the various disciplines within biology.
One of the most notable facets of the documentary is its background information on what butterflies have meant to people throughout the ages as it traces the butterfly from the ancient of days till today. Various ancient civilizations iconified butterflies in beauty, wonder, and astonishment.
Fast forward to today’s advanced capabilities to take a deeper look into the majesty of butterflies, and the awe is only heightened. It is truly incredible to think that of the 20,000 species of butterflies every one of them has different shaped wings, color patterns and designs. Each species has a unique butterfly egg architecture, and the incredible ability for butterflies to lay eggs only on the plants which can allow the offspring to feed on is eclipsed by their incredible capability to track down these plants from miles away. And as one scholar mentions in the documentary, ‘butterflies just don’t make mistakes when it comes to their reproduction.’
While still in the larval stage, the caterpillar undergoes all sorts of chemical reactions. The old skin is pushed away as the chrysalis is formed. Chrysalis hardens, takes form, then metamorphosis happens, as the caterpillar slowly undergoes this process to turn from an earth-bound plant-eating arthropod into a beautiful insect that feeds on nectar and can navigate with incredible precision able to fly 50 miles in a single day.
Butterflies and Metamorphosis: the Amazing Transformation
And as the scholars evaluate the process of butterflies and metamorphosis, they are left with amazement at exactly how it happens. On caterpillars, there is nothing like the compound eye and long articulated legs found on butterflies. In fact, the organism needs to have two body plans present in order to account for the incredible change. The process is fairly astonishing. Cell death is programmed and only the right cells are killed. And you have to know where you’re going to end up before you start. To think about all the anatomical changes that occur during metamorphosis is truly incredible –
- The reproductive organs that did not exist in the caterpillar emerge during metamorphosis
- muscular system is redefined
- feeding tube is defined
- four wings are shaped and defined
- major transitions have to take place in the heart and antennae
- caterpillar’s simple eyes that could only detect light turn into large complex compound eyes
The attributes and capabilities of the newly formed insect are fairly incredible:
- wings are filled with veins and covered by microscopic scales
- wings also act as solar panels collecting heat for the flight muscles
- field of vision is 180 degrees and it has better vision than humans
- they have four color vision spectrums, from ultraviolet to ifrared
- can get the scent of the host plant or prospective mate more than a mile away
In recent years it has been revealed that the monarch butterfly of North America migrates to Mexico in the winter. Their continued survival depends on this migration. And how do they navigate? Butterflies can determine where to fly and how to fly by –
- detecting day length through antennae
- detecting the position of the sun
- compensating with biological clock throughout the day adjusting their flight each day
- gliding on currents of warm thermal air
It is impossible to look at the butterfly and not ask ‘how?’ And as we ready to answer the question, we quickly come to the conclusion where we have to ask ourselves whether the theory of evolution can possible provide an explanation.
Since the late 19th century for something to be seen as”scientific” with regard to the manner in which we must explain the processes of organisms, they must rely exclusively upon undirected natural causes, the view published by Darwin. But can evolution account for metamorphosis? The incredible look into the process of butterflies and metamorphosis displays an incredible orchestra, an engineered system that defies the expectations one would have from the processes of the evolutionary model. The magnitude of changes that occurs during metamorphosis is then visualized by a model T Ford automobile that suddenly encases itself in a garage. Inside most of the car breaks down into its bare parts, reorganize themselves into more complex parts, garage door opens and a helicopter emerges. The incredible changes witnessed through research leads one biologist to conclude,
“A caterpillar, unless it makes it into an adult is no good because it can’t reproduce. You’re not going to have an offspring, so you’re a dead end street evolutionarily. It wouldn’t be any benefit at all to kill yourself, unless you’ve got a hidden plan up your sleeve. It’s like, ‘Ok, I know I can go ahead and commit suicide because there’s a new me waiting to happen.'” – Ann Gauger, Developmental Biology
And as another featured scholar, Philosopher of Biology Paul Nelson affirms,
“The chrysalis, unless it represents something else to come, is really a casket. If you’re a caterpillar, you’re entering your own grave. Turning most of your body into a molecular soup would be suicide…natural selection does not work like that. It can’t anticipate metamorphosis. Without foresight it’s highly unlikely that natural selection would retain a destructive process like cell death.” – Paul Nelson, Philosopher of Biology
And because everything needs to be in place ahead of time, all cells need to have been preprogrammed, the vast amount of coordination that is required, and because metamorphosis would have needed to have come into existence all at once without any gradual steps, leads biologist Ann Gauger to conclude,
“For evolution to have create this sort of pathway gradually, it would take a miracle.” – Ann Gauger
This wonderful documentary closes as it began – in complete awe of butterflies and specifically of the process of metamorphosis, that appears to defy a gradual evolution. I would highly recommend Metamorphosis to anyone who is interested in the natural world, to those who would like to get a deeper understanding of what butterflies undergo during metamorphosis, and to those who have never heard anything that has challenged their view of the evolutionary model.
For more information about Metamorphosis, you may visit the film’s website here. To view other wonderful Illustra Media documentaries you may visit the Illustra Media website or read another review I did on birds and flight.