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The Stages of Metamorphosis

written by: Kristina Dems•edited by: Sarah Malburg•updated: 5/20/2010

Insects grow differently in comparison to human beings. They undergo several stages before they become full grown insects. Learn what the different stages of metamorphosis are, what an insect goes through in this process, and how incomplete and complete metamorphosis differ.

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    What is Metamorphosis?

    Like human beings, insects also grow and undergo stages of development. However, in so many ways, these stages vary. As you read along, you will discover the stages of metamorphosis and how insects differ greatly in their development from humans.

    The term, metamorphosis was derived from the Greek word, "metamorphoo" which means "to change formation or appearance". It is the natural process by which insects develop and grow. In short, the stages of metamorphosis are the biological journey of insects from birth to maturity. Metamorphosis is essential since it would give insects the chance to rest, grow, and eventually reproduce.

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    Complete and Incomplete Metamorphosis

    What are the stages of metamorphosis? It is important to note that the stages of metamorphosis can be classified as complete and incomplete. Examples of insects undergoing complete metamorphosis are butterflies, flies, and beetles. It has four known stages. On the other hand, insects undergoing incomplete metamorphosis are grasshoppers and cockroaches. This process is composed of only three stages.

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    Complete Metamorphosis

    • Eggs - All insects begin as eggs. This stage is equivalent to the embryonic stage in humans.
    • Larvae - When the eggs are hatched, the larvae emerge. During this stage, the insects grow and eat to survive. However, you can never tell that the actual insects would come from these larvae given the fact that they have a completely different appearance. Caterpillars are actually the larvae stage of the life cycle of butterflies. As the larvae grow, they undergo molting several times.


    • Pupae - This is the stage where insects undergo transformation. After the larvae stage, they form into pupae to cover themselves up. During this stage, the insects rest, form their wings or other internal organs, and develop themselves before turning into full grown adults. A chrysalis is the pupa stage for butterflies.


    • Adults - This is the last stage of metamorphosis. After molting, the pupae finally turn into mature insects. Adult insects usually collaborate with their own kinds.


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      Incomplete Metamorphosis

      Incomplete metamorphosis is composed of only three stages. Insects undergoing incomplete metamorphosis also start out as eggs. However, these eggs do not turn into larvae and pupae. Instead, they become nymphs. Nymphs are like smaller versions of full grown insects. The nymphs and adults almost have the same features, however, nymphs have no wings and are smaller than the adults. Following the nymph stage is the adult stage, which is also the reproductive stage. Adult insects are already capable of laying eggs.

      The stages of metamorphosis of insects are truly wonderful. They might not be the same with human beings, but these stages are completely unique and amazing in their own way.

      After learning what the stages of metamorphosis are, you might also want to read the Magnificent Metamorphosis Lesson Plan for Science, if you are looking for interactive ideas and projects covering this topic.

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