Micro-Season: “Leaf Insects Turn Into Butterflies” 2023

We have entered the micro-season of “Leaf insects turn into Butterflies”. This is the third micro-season of the mini-season of Awakening of Insects. All the micro-seasons within Awakening of Insects are:

  • Hibernating Creatures Open Their Doors (Mar 5 -Mar 9)
  • The First Peach Blossoms (Mar 10 – Mar 14)
  • Leaf insects turn into Butterflies (Mar 15 – Mar 19)

These seasons were established in 1685 by Japanese astronomer Shibukawa Shunkai and are specific to Japan. However, just because the calendar focuses on Japan doesn’t mean it isn’t applicable to others.  No matter where you live you can use these seasons as a starting point for your personal exploration into the world around you. 

To celebrate this season, we will learn about the life cycle of butterflies and read haiku by Basho, Buson, and Issa. 

What Are Leaf Insects?

The authors of the 72-season app explain that “Leaf Insects” are caterpillars.  But more specifically, these “leaf insects” are the caterpillars found in the vegetable fields that become the Cabbage White Butterfly.  The Cabbage White Butterfly is an iconic symbol of spring in Japan.(1) To find out more about the Cabbage White Butterfly, read last year’s post on “Leaf Insects Turn Into Butterflies.

The Life Cycle Of A Butterfly

The transformation, or more specifically the metamorphosis, of a caterpillar to a butterfly is one of the most amazing feats of nature.

However, becoming a butterfly is just one of the several transitions that this insect goes through during its lifetime. Below are the four main stages of a butterfly’s life.

The Egg Stage:

The first stage of a butterfly’s life is the egg stage. An adult female butterfly will lay its tiny eggs on plant life. These eggs may be laid in any season but winter.  The timing of egg laying will depend on the species of butterfly.  A butterfly lays its eggs on plants so that when the caterpillar hatches it will have easy access to food.  

The Caterpillar Stage:

The second stage in a butterfly’s life is known as the larva stage, which we commonly call the caterpillar stage.  The caterpillar’s main job is to eat and grow.  Some caterpillars can “grow 100 times their size during this stage.”(2) For example, a monarch butterfly caterpillar is a little bit bigger than a pinhead after hatching.  Yet it will grow to over two inches long before moving into the next stage.

The Chrysalis Stage:

The chrysalis stage is also known as the pupa stage.  At this stage. the caterpillar has stopped eating and is preparing for its final transition to a butterfly.  

Butterflies and moths go through what is called a complete metamorphosis.  Their transition is called a complete metamorphosis because the caterpillar, or larva, is very different from the adult butterfly and eats different food.

This is unlike grasshoppers, crickets, and dragonflies, which undergo incomplete metamorphosis. Their transitions are called incomplete because their larva stage looks similar to their adult stage, but they are missing the wings.

Depending on the species of butterfly, the chrysalis stage can last anywhere from a few weeks to a couple of years.

A Cocoon Or A Chrysalis? 

The terms cocoon and chrysalis are often used to refer to the same thing, but they are very different.  To start butterflies emerge from the chrysalis, whereas moths emerge from cocoons.  Other differences include:

  • Cocoons are made of silk
  • Chrysalises are exoskeletons
  • Cocoons are often attached to the side of things or in leaf litter
  • Chrysalises are typically hanging from the underside of things like branches or under decks.

Once enclosed in the chrysalis, the caterpillar actually digests itself using its own enzymes.  Then, activating cells known as “imaginal discs”, which are similar in function to stem cells, the butterfly converts that protein-rich material inside the chrysalis into butterfly parts.(4)  For a detailed, yet easy-to-read explanation of this process visit “How Does a Caterpillar Turn into a Butterfly?” By Ferris Jabr 

The Butterfly Stage

The Butterfly stage is also known as the adult stage or the reproductive stage.  At this point in time, the job of the butterfly is to mate and then find places to lay eggs.  Many butterflies rely on flower nectar to survive, while others don’t eat anything during this stage. 


The lifespan of butterflies ranges greatly.  The Small Blues and Coppers butterflies only live for a few days.  A Black Swallowtail and an Eastern Swallowtail may live for 2 or 3 weeks, and a Peacock butterfly and a Tortoiseshell can live for 11 or 12 months.  In general, the larger the butterfly, the longer the butterfly lives.(6)

Seasonal Haiku

The World Kigo Database tells us that the butterfly (choochoo) is a spring kigo.  However, butterflies can show up in other seasons and will be described as autumn butterfly or summer butterfly.  But perhaps what is most interesting about the butterfly in poetry is the potential cultural connections.  

Dr. Gabi Greve explains that the Taoist sage Zhuangzi (Chuang-tzu) (369 BCE to 286 BCE) wrote a very famous parable called “The Butterfly Dream”. Below is a translation of this parable by Lin Yutang

“Once upon a time, I, Zhuangzi, dreamt I was a butterfly, fluttering hither and thither, to all intents and purposes a butterfly. I was conscious only of my happiness as a butterfly, unaware that I was Zhuangzi. Soon I awakened, and there I was, veritably myself again. Now I do not know whether I was then a man dreaming I was a butterfly, or whether I am now a butterfly, dreaming I am a man. Between a man and a butterfly there is necessarily a distinction. The transition is called the transformation of material things.”(7)

This parable then became the inspiration for “Ancient Song” a poem by Chinese poet Li Po (701 CE -762 CE).

“Ancient Song” by Li Po

Chuang-tzu dreams he's a butterfly,
and a butterfly becomes Chuang-tzu.
All of transformation this one body,
boundless occurrence goes on and on:
it’s no surprise Eastern seas become
western streams shallow and clear,
or the melon-grower at Ch'ing Gate
once reigned as Duke of Tung-ling.
Are hopes and dreams any different?
We bustle around, looking for what?
(from The Selected Poems of Li Po, by David Hinton)

Basho was also inspired by Chaung-tzu’s dream and wrote the following haiku.


you are the butterfly
and I the dreaming heart
of Chuang-tzu
(translated by Robert Aitken)

With all this in mind, let’s read a few other butterfly haiku.


the dreamy feelings
when held between our fingers-- 
a butterfly
(translated by Tr. by William R. Nelson & Takafumi Saito)
on the temple bell 
butterfly lying; 
(Translated by Shoji Kumano


flitting butterflies
in the middle of a field - 
sunlit shadows 
(translated by Sam Hamill
butterfly! butterfly!
I would ask you about
China’s haikai. 
(translated by David Landis Barnhill)


small butterfly
lighter than the dust
of your dust body
(translated by Chris Drake)
sheltering under a tree
with Butterfly -- we've met
in other lives
(translated by Chris Drake)

Haiku Invitation

This week’s haiku invitation is to write a haiku or senryu that references spring insects.  

Share your haiku in the comments below, or post on your own page and link back to this post. I can’t wait to read what you write!  


  1. 72 Seasons App
  2. “Butterfly Lifecycle”; The Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University
  3. “How Does A Caterpillar Turn Into A Butterfly?”; NorthAmericanNature
  4. Jabr, Ferris, “How Does a Caterpillar Turn into a Butterfly?”;  ScientificAmerica.com
  5. “What’s the difference between a chrysalis and a cocoon?”; Monarchjointventure.org
  6. “How Long Do Butterfles Live”; Butterflyindentification.com
  7. “Zhangzi’s (Chuang-Tzu’s) Butterfly Dream Parable”; LearnReligons.com
  8. “Butterfly (choochoo)”; World Kigo Database

Li Po’s “Ancient Song” was retrieved from World Kigo Database. Issa’s haiku were retrieved from the World Kigo Database.    Basho’s haiku were retrieved from World Kigo Database and  Matsuo Bashō’s haiku poems in romanized Japanese with English translations. Buson’s haiku retrieved from Haiku of Yosa Buson: Organized by Rōmaji, in alphabetical order; translated into English, French, Spanish, by Terebess Asia Online (TAO). 

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48 thoughts on “Micro-Season: “Leaf Insects Turn Into Butterflies” 2023

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    1. Glad that you enjoyed this post and Li Po’s poem. I always enjoy how much a learn about poetry and the natural worlds as I look into each one of these seasons! Thanks for visiting today!

    1. Yes, you are correct that the translation is off as there are true leaf insects and walking leaves It is interesting that the translators state that by using the term leaf insect they mean catepillar. I have seen other translations of this season that use caterpillar. Very good observation!

    1. Hi Jules, Such a wonderful collection for this week. I also enjoy the haiku and sentence pairing. Thanks for adding to the conversation!

  1. hula dancer
    a butterfly lands
    on her hibiscus

    Originally published in Tsuri-doro Issue 13

    I loved all the information you shared today, Mark. I am truly learning so much about kigo, Japanese culture, and nature. I’m so grateful that I have this respite every Friday.

    Oh, and another poem I wrote to your prompt is getting published. This time by Seashores! Thank you for all the inspiration.

    1. Congratulations on another acceptance! You are having a very successful year of writing. It is truly amazing!

      A funny thing about your haiku is that our indoor hibiscus flowered for the first time in a while this morning! How timely.

      I am glad that you are finding inspiration with these posts. I appreciate reading all your work! Did I also see one of your haiku in the golden haiku contest?

      1. Why yes you did see that! I am truly so excited and proud of myself too. I truly believe my growth is based on prompts I try to do daily and reading everyone’s work.

    1. Hi Nan,
      Another wonderful collection! I really like the honeybee haiku and the line “shallow spring”. I also feel like I read “spring breezes” somewhere recently. Not sure where. Maybe C. Digregorio Daily Haiku?
      Thanks again for adding your work! It’s always a pleasure.

      1. Hi Mark,
        Thanks for your kind comments on my haiku. I have recently started using the kigo list that The Haiku Foundation’s Renku leader (John Stevenson) expects the people who participate to use for the Renku Sessions. It has been very helpful because it separates (and defines) the seasons into various kinds: the season, the heavens, the earth, plants, animals, humanity, and observances. Not every season has all of them, but I pick and choose what seems to be appropriate. Since then I have expanded those kigo I use on other haiku I write.I will never use them all, but it has helped me in my writing.

        As for spring breezes, it would not surprise me if Charlotte would choose haiku with that kigo. She is always choosing delightful haiku, and I try to read her blog regularly.

        Have a great weekend!

  2. In early spring and late fall, when the swifts and swallows are missing…

    Clouds of gnats hover
    over sunlit forest paths
    —Hikers arms flailing—

    Thank you, Mark, for all the butterfly/moth information. And for Issa’s exquisite “dust” haiku!

    1. Hi Mary Jo, I am glad that you enjoyed this one. The more I learn about butterflies and moths the more fascinated I become with them.
      Wonderful poem highlighting gnats! I know this scenario all too well! Thanks for sharing.

  3. Mary Jo,
    I know what you mean. Most of these seasons will happen in the near future for me as well. Fortunately, I have haiku written from previous years and can imagine something similar for inspiration of new haiku.

    1. Hi Colleen, Thanks for adding to this week’s conversation! And with a stink bug haiku at that! Have a good week and thanks for the ongoing support.

  4. This is a fascinating article, Mark. The butterfly transformation is so amazing. And that is just one of millions of creatures in our natural world.

    Butterfly’s birth
    Nature’s best slight-of-hand

    1. Hi Dwight, thanks for joining the conversation and adding such a perfect haiku for the season! I like the “slight-of-hand” phrase. It highlights the magic of it all.

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