Metamorphosis: The Beauty and Design of Butterflies is the latest DVD produced by Illustra Media. For those familiar with Illustra’s growing family of documentaries, this DVD will fit in nicely with a collection that emphasizes the structures of design and intricacy found woven throughout nature’s wonders. Metamorphosis takes an in-depth look at butterflies.
The main content of the DVD is a 64-minute-long documentary charting the truly remarkable life cycle of butterflies — and in particular, the process of metamorphosis from caterpillar to butterfly. Under the eye of the electron microscope, the viewer is treated to a look at the architecture of the egg. Amazing videography reveals the molting process close-up, by which the caterpillar grows into a larger and larger eating machine. Computer imagery illustrates the inner workings of the chrysalis as the earthbound arthropod transforms in a nectar-eating flying canvas. Even more microscopic visuals magnify compound eyes and intricate wings. If you had low expectations for a “butterfly DVD,” you may just be fascinated, because this description does no justice to the actual visuals of the truly amazing process.
The documentary follows a linear progression in the life cycle, which culminates in an exploration of the migration of Monarch butterflies from North American to Mexico. Guided by internal navigation which is sensitive to magnetic fields, some 300 million butterflies make their journey of up to 2,500 miles to key locations in a Mexican mountain range. This migration is peculiar, as the normal butterfly life span is somewhere between two and four weeks. However, when it is time for migration, the current generation lives up to 9 months in order to make this journey south for semi-hibernation, then return in the spring to lay eggs.
Along the way through the first 45 minutes of the documentary, the viewer learns a lot of amazing things about butterflies. For instance, the wings are used like solar panels to heat the flight muscles. The compound eyes, which can see over 180 degrees, also see colors from ultraviolet to infrared. The butterfly emerges from its chrysalis and then assembles its proboscis (it’s drinking straw for nectar) out of two retractable halves. The list goes on. But the point has yet to be made.
The final 15 minutes of the DVD simply asks the question: how did this come about? In case the viewer was unaware, the entire documentary has been presenting one complex and crucial step after another in the butterfly life cycle. Each of these steps must be successful or the butterfly — or, earlier yet — the caterpillar dies. If there is no reproduction, there can be no natural selection. When it comes to metamorphosis, the concept is an all-or-nothing proposition. Instead, what is seen in the life cycle and metamorphosis of the butterfly is planning, foresight, artistry, and engineering. The documentary argues that these are the sort of positive indicators for intelligent design.
Metamorphosis can be recommended as a fascinating documentary for audiences young and old, and a great next addition to a quality collection from Illustra Media. A trailer for Metamorphosis can be found at this website.