Home > Blog: Currents & Futures > What are “Imaginal Cells”?

There are several definitions for the term “imaginal cells”, depending on the context from which one is speaking…

Scientific: The imaginal cells are the parts of a caterpillar that hold the information of the butterfly. They are latent within the cell, until it is time for them to grow.

A more accurate (and boring) definition:

Imaginal cells are tissue-specific progenitors allocated in embryogenesis that remain quiescent during embryonic and larval life. During Drosophila metamorphosis, most larval cells die. Pupal and adult tissues form from imaginal cells. Clonal analysis and fate mapping of single, identified cells show that tracheal system remodeling at metamorphosis involves a classical imaginal cell population and a population of differentiated, functional larval tracheal cells that reenter the cell cycle and regain developmental potency. In late larvae, both populations are activated and proliferate, spread over and replace old branches, and diversify into various stalk and coiled tracheolar cells under control of fibroblast growth factor signaling. Wikipedia

A much less boring explanation can be found in Scientific American!

Imaginal Cells as Metaphor…

I think you recognize that I am speaking metaphorically when I refer to humans as “imaginal cells”. In this metaphor, our present society is the all-consuming caterpillar, and the world we envision is the soon-to-emerge beauty of the butterfly.

My friend and collaborator Norie Huddle, in her book, Butterfly, is the originator of this meme, taking the idea from the world of biology to the world of societal dynamics. Here is an adaptation of her work, in the “Imaginal Cell Story”.

Others writings include “Butterfly Mysteries”, and “The Story of Imaginal Cells”.

As we transform our society, do you think we will face opposition? Of course we will… and that’s GREAT! It’s a living part of the process of transformation. If the imaginal cells don’t face strong opposition, they cannot form a strong butterfly. “The Caterpillar’s Job is to Resist the Butterfly”.

It is time for us all to answer a higher imperative. It’s time for us to step up to our destiny.



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