I was thinking 'observe' but that doesn't necessarily imply that the thing you are observing is changing. Is there a more specific word?

Ex: "I will ___ this butterfly as it emerges from its cocoon."

A word for 'watching a transformation', specifically.

  • 3
    Observe works here as you already state as it emerges from its cocoon. Why would the word need to mean observing a change when you already state that you are observing a change? Jan 15, 2019 at 21:18
  • "Six hours, nineteen minutes, right ascension, fourteen degrees, fifty-eight minutes declination. . . no sighting."
    – Mazura
    Jan 17, 2019 at 20:34

5 Answers 5


Monitor is the word you are looking for.

1. observe and check the progress or quality of (something) over a period of time; keep under systematic review
Oxford Dictionaries

  • Monitor has a rather technical connotation. I wouldn't describe someone as monitoring something in order to appreciate its beauty. Even "observe" sounds better to my ear in that context.
    – user234461
    Jan 15, 2019 at 17:36
  • Observe does not imply the thing is changing @user234461
    – Neo Darwin
    Jan 15, 2019 at 19:00
  • 1
    @user234461 The original question does not specify the reason for the observation, the observer could be a student, a butterfly collector, or even an entomologist. Also, while it's definitely a pragmatic term I wouldn't call it technical. Parents monitor their kids.
    – barbecue
    Jan 15, 2019 at 19:03
  • @barbecue No, I just thought it would be useful additional information. I'm trying to augment the answer here, not trash it. Monitor could sound very odd in some contexts.
    – user234461
    Jan 16, 2019 at 11:51
  • 1
    I strongly disagree that monitoring something is equivalent to observing it - even the quoted definition makes that clear: "observe and check". Monitoring involves not only active observation, but also involves noting & recording the changes that are observed. On the other hand, observing may merely involve watching something out of pure curiosity, interest or intrigue but without actually checking, noting, or recording anything about the change itself. For example, you might watch or observe a lunar eclipse out of general interest - but you would not be monitoring it!
    – TrevorD
    Jan 16, 2019 at 15:40

It would be 'to track'.

According to Merriam-Webster's Dictionary:


Transitive verb

1a: to follow the tracks or trace of : TRAIL

b: to search for by following evidence until foundtrack down the source

2a: to follow by vestiges : TRACE

b: to observe or plot the moving path of (something, such as a spacecraft or missile) often instrumentally.


The simple and quite versatile study would fit quite nicely here, at least that is what I would have chosen if I were to write a biology essay on butterfly metamorphosis.

From OED v4:

study, v.

10. a. To examine in detail, seek to become minutely acquainted with or to understand (a phenomenon, a state of circumstances, a series of events, a person's character, etc.); to investigate (a problem).

b. To scrutinize (a visible object) in order to ascertain its nature or to be familiar with or interpret its appearance; loosely, to look at as if examining minutely.

This is certainly a less precise choice of word than monitor, it is after all the tenth of fifteen meanings listed in total, but I feel monitor can have some unwanted connotations. Usually the word is used when you are controlling a process. That is, keeping an eye on it in case something undesired were to happen, and in that case possibly rectify it or take some other appropriate action. It does not fit that well the act of observing and dutifully logging a natural process with the intention of acquiring knowledge.


I don't think there's a single word that specifically means to observe over time looking for changes, because the the fact that observation is being done over time implies that changes are possible, otherwise the observation over time would not be needed.

I think the previously suggested monitor is closest, but in a situation where that would be too formal, contemplate could be used. From Merriam-Webster...


transitive verb

1 : to view or consider with continued attention : meditate on

In this case contemplate means to pay continuous attention to a subject over a period of time. The word can mean to consider a decision, but that is not the only meaning.

"James contemplated the slow emergence of the butterfly from its chrysalis."


"I will document this butterfly as it emerges from its cocoon."

document. TFD

To methodically record the details of:

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