The life cycle of a butterfly (or moth) is made up of three stages – the egg, the larva, the pupa, and the adult. Butterflies come in a variety of shapes and sizes, with a plethora of colors and patterns. In flight, they are distinctive for their fluttery movements. Although the larvae can be quite destructive to plants because they ingest an enormous amount of vegetation and foliage, the adult butterflies are very important because they pollinate a lot of flowers and plants through their natural feeding. In fact, a variety of flowers have evolved to be attractive to butterflies, either through colors, shapes, or scents. Butterflies fly distinctively, unlike other insects, fluttering lightly from flower to flower.
In other societies, butterflies are believed to be the souls of the deceased fluttering to heaven. This conviction is partly due to the fact that people observe a caterpillar entering a cocoon and a butterfly emerging. They believed that the caterpillar died while in the cocoon and was regenerated as a majestic butterfly, just as a human died, leaving behind an empty shell, and their soul moved on to better, more majestic things in the afterlife. Butterflies are sometimes viewed as superficial and shallow creatures. They flit from flower to flower in their spastic flight, focusing only on the most beautiful, ornate, or sweetest smelling blossoms. They are not renowned for any great skill, except looking beautiful.
Butterflies have a short life span and are fairly fragile and delicate. They are popular in arts and culture around the world, but have a drastic range in symbolism. In some countries, they are considered fickle, unfaithful, or inconsistent. They represent negative change and mutability. However, in other cultures, butterflies more often symbolism change and metamorphosis in a positive way. In Eastern and Western culture alike, they are often the symbol for young girls becoming women. The change of a caterpillar to butterfly is not a violent or traumatic adjustment, but a peaceful, calm, and graceful transition. Girls should aspire to this sort of transformation, too, according to those that embrace this butterfly symbolism. Likewise, in China, two butterflies symbolize marital bliss and conjugal happiness.
Butterflies are popular motifs in all sorts of artist media, including tattooing. Insect tattoo designs such as butterflies, along with tribal tattoo designs, were some of the most popular tattoos in the 1990s, and are often associated with tattoo trends. Butterflies are almost always viewed as a feminine insect, because of their beauty, their delicate natures, and their association with life-changing transformations. All of these reasons have made them popular with women, particularly women going through periods of great change.
Oftentimes, high school or college graduates get a butterfly tattoo to mark their transition out of school and into adult life. Women who have undergone a difficult or disfiguring illness or surgery sometimes decide to get a butterfly tattoo to mark this time of revival, because butterflies are also a symbol or renewal and rebirth. They feel they are beginning life a second time and that this second life will be more beautiful because of the difficulties they have endured, just like the transformation the caterpillar undergoes to become the butterfly.
Furthermore, butterflies can also represent an “ugly duckling”. Like swans that begin life as unattractive ducklings, butterflies begin life as ugly caterpillars. They don't become beautiful or admirable until they are adults. Sometimes, people who have experienced bullying or teasing because of their physical appearance as children embrace the symbolism of a butterfly, too. They feel they have transitioned into something more beautiful and more graceful, like the awkward caterpillar that becomes an elegant butterfly.
There are several instances of strong male figures choosing the butterfly as their symbol, like a Roman emperor, Japanese warriors, and fighting priests, but in contemporary culture the butterfly is almost always distinctly female. However, moths are often seen as more masculine, although they are technically from the same species of insect.