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Do butterflies retain their caterpillar memories? © Dan Bright

Do butterflies retain their caterpillar memories?

Published: 01st January, 2022 at 11:00
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And we thought growing up was hard…

The transition from caterpillar to butterfly via a soupy pupal mashup remains one of the greatest mysteries of the animal kingdom. During metamorphosis, body parts are liquified and then reorganised, but the ability of memories to survive this process was unknown. That is until scientists trained caterpillars to avoid the whiff of ethyl acetate by pairing the chemical, often used in nail polish remover, with a mild electric shock.


When the larvae turned into adult moths, most continued to avoid the odour, suggesting that moths and butterflies may indeed remember some of their larval experiences. Yet another reason to be kind to caterpillars.

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Asked by: Andrew Peters, London


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Helen Pilcher
Helen PilcherScience writer, presenter and performer.

Helen Pilcher is a tea-drinking, biscuit-nibbling science and comedy writer, with a PhD in cell biology.


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