You must first break down before you can build up. A fact that is known by caterpillars, flies, beetles and every other holometabolous insect. Their method of transforming completely in between their various life stages is so successful that the large majority of insects, and by extension of all animals on the planet, use this strategy. Within the pupa (also known as a cocoon, but this term is not entirely correct), all types of enzymes break down the caterpillar’s cells and organs into a caterpillar soup consisting of short protein strings.
I peek in with my nose pressed against the glass. Upon completing their work, the construction workers locked the door behind them and took the key with them. It is a mess inside. After a week of deconstruction, the floor of the attic and the first floor have been removed and offer a view all the way to the rafters. The wall separating the pantry from the kitchen has been knocked down, as well as the wall leading to the living room. The kitchen floor has also vanished. Large chunks of isolating material are scattered among the debris on the floor. It looks like a missile has struck.
Large chunks of isolating material are scattered among the debris on the floor. It looks like a missile has struck
Not every part of the caterpillar is destroyed by enzymes. Some of its organs remain intact, and the muscles are reduced to clumps of muscle cells. The caterpillar soup is not a smooth one but rather a chunky concoction. The caterpillar also keeps its brain, and there are studies indicating it retains its memories when it transforms into a butterfly.
It has been two years in the making, but my younger sister had to move out first. The second week of the Christmas holidays centred on the question, ‘should this stay or should it go?’. The number of children’s drawings, stuff, clutter, and junk a family of six can produce in two decades is immeasurable. I can see what was once my sister’s bedroom when I look up through the kitchen window. There, in the corner, a Van Gogh poster still clings to the wall. It had been put up with industrial-grade tape and was difficult to take down. It will probably be removed soon.
A butterfly retains memories dating back to before its transformation. Will it remember what its caterpillar body looked like?
A butterfly retains memories dating back to before its transformation. Will it remember what its caterpillar body looked like, or does the butterfly think it has always been a butterfly? Perhaps it is a form of phantom pain similar to that which results from amputations. Or the opposite: a wing is now in a spot where there was nothing before. Or a proboscis. Or antennae.
The construction at home will take an entire year. When we are permitted to re-enter, my bedroom will have been transformed into a new stairwell. I will be able to stand in the pantry and remember that that spot didn’t exist before. Walk up the stairs feeling where my bed used to be. Or run my hand across the bedroom wall and say: here once hung a poster so determined to stay put that it took a complete reconstruction to get it off the wall.
Ilja Bouwknegt is 24, a bachelor’s student of Forest and Nature Management, and an active member of the study association WSBV Sylvatica. She sometimes does bat research at night.