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METAMORPHOSIS


I can recall how taken back I was, in my fourth grade science class, when I first became aware of this almost magical phenomena of an ugly, old caterpillar becoming a beautiful butterfly. Of course at that age I had a very hard time understanding the whole biological time-clock thing and more so a greater problem pronouncing the word by which this natural process was know: "metamorphosis."


Miss Black had taken an old ten-gallon fish tank that had a crack in the bottom and, with the class' assistance, turned it into a wonderful display of natural beauty. As we went through the various steps of this project in the biological sciences, there seemed very little I picked up of Miss Black's hints of "metamorphosis." Inside the tank, we had placed a little potting soil, various grasses and plant life. Then the surprise: Miss Black introduced us to "Gloria," the caterpillar.


Gloria arrived in a small Tupperware container that Miss Black apparently had brought from her kitchen at home. On top was a piece of cheesecloth held in place by a large rubber band. Once she had removed this covering, she gently reached into the container and brought out her little friend. She then invited each row to come forward to get a closer look.


What an ugly caterpillar, I thought to myself.


As I looked around the group that had accompanied me, I could immediately tell they must have the same thought. A few of their faces were all scrunched up. Others had lifted their eye brows high on their foreheads. And one of the girls had actually covered her eyes with her hands.


After the entire class had had the opportunity to view Gloria's somewhat horrific looks, Miss Black stepped over to the side table where the old fish-tank-turned-natural-habitat set. She then graciously placed Gloria on one of the broad leaves of a plant. Gloria seemed to like her new surroundings. She immediately began to crawl down the leaf and onto the stem and on to the grass below.


Over the next few days we had the responsibility to check on Gloria and then to write in a journal what we had seen. Miss Black had also instructed us to be sure to jot down anything unusual that we might see. After several days of just seeing Gloria eat the foliage and crawling around all over the grasses and plants, a few of us seemed to be getting bored with the whole thing. What else does a caterpillar do? After all, all it seems to want to do is eat, crawl, eat, crawl, eat, and crawl.


At the end of that week, most of us were getting a little restless about our science project and really didn't think a whole lot about Gloria. Before leaving school on Friday, I had gone over to the cage and could see that Gloria was moving a little slower than usual and was beginning to crawl up a dry stick we had placed in one corner of the tank. She climbed up slowly and seemed to be inspecting every little bump and crag. I returned quickly to my desk and made an entry in my journal of what I had seen.


Over the weekend I was way too busy riding my homemade skateboard and playing a few games of marbles with the neighborhood guys. I don't recall thinking too much about Gloria that weekend at all. After all, play-time was way more important than some old school science project. Who'd want to think about schoolwork on a weekend anyway?


Finally it was back to school on Monday as usual. Gary, my buddy from up the street, Jim, a guy from a couple streets over and I always walked to school a few blocks away. The three of us happened to be in Miss Black's class. During our walk that morning, I had asked them if they had seen what Gloria had been doing just before we all left the classroom on the past Friday. Gary said he wasn't really that concerned about Gloria anymore. Jim said that he had just kind of looked in the tank as he passed by on his way out of the room but hadn't really seen Gloria at all.


I began to tell them what I had observed and then told them I had hurriedly written about it in my journal. Gary and Jim seemed to kind of perk up when I told them about what I had seen going on in the tank with Gloria. We then all became a little more anxious about what we might find as we would enter the classroom a bit later.


When we finally reached the school the three of us made a dash to the closest door, ran down the hall and around the corner to Miss Black's room. We dropped our book bags near the coat rack and sped over to Gloria's tank. Looking around through the grasses and all the green foliage, we didn't see anything of her at all. We then looked at the old dry stick Miss Black had placed in the corner. There we saw the most unusual sight. About halfway up the stick was this crusty looking blackish-brown thing. I knew it hadn't been there before. It was oddly shaped and didn't look like anything Gloria would have been interested in.


About that time Miss Black entered the room. We immediately called for her to come and see what we had found. We began to ask her questions about it all at one time, each of us trying to get her complete attention. She told us to wait until she had sit her belongings down and that then she would look at our discovery and try to explain to us what had happened to Gloria.


When she finally approached where we were and looked into the tank with us she let out a "Woo whoo!" She then instructed us to go to our desk and write in our journals what we had discovered that morning. That we did as she had asked.


As the other kids started entering the room, we began to tell each one or group to look at Gloria. Many of them seemed to have a similar reaction as Gary, Jim and I had. A few of them swiftly moved to their desks and got out their journals. Others just kind of huddled around the tank asking Miss Black what was going on. She told everyone to get seated and that she would share what was happening to Gloria during our science lesson later in the morning. None of us could wait.


Several years later after having moved on from Miss Black's fourth grade class, I found myself in high school biology class. I no longer needed to have explained to me what had happened to Gloria. I had gained quite a bit of knowledge from our science project years earlier. I had a very clear cut understanding of this thing called "metamorphosis." But yet I have never gotten a solid definition for that term. Tenth-grade biology would now give me that information.


Metamorphosis: a biological process by which an animal physically develops after birth or hatching, involving a conspicuous and relatively abrupt change in the animal's form or structure through cell growth and differentiation.


You can catch the drift, into which I am heading, can't you?


Now let's get back to Gloria and the fourth grade science project: Miss Black explained to us that what was happening to Gloria; she was changing from a caterpillar to a butterfly. In this process, she would go through various changes in her appearance. She told us that we had missed the first stage of her transformation, that being the egg. Gloria, we were told, when we first met her was in the second stage called "larva." She presently was going through the third stage, "pupa," which is an inactive stage in the process. It is in this stage that her drastic changes will take place.


Miss Black then explained that Gloria's appearance on that old dead stick is known as a "cocoon." While being encased in this protective barrier, Gloria is going through tremendous change. We were told that her larva (caterpillar) was growing wings and that her entire body and organs would break down and her "adult" structures would develop. Once this stage had completed, Gloria would crack open her encasement and flutter forth as a beautiful butterfly.


Miss Black then told us of other species of animals and insects that go through similar changes: frogs, salamanders, crab, lobsters, snails, mosquitoes, grasshoppers, termites, along with others too numerous to mention. She then informed us that each species has its own way to metamorphoses.

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