Metamorphosis – The Two Types For Insects!


The larva form of the cabbage white butterfly caterpillar.

Did you know that all insects undergo metamorphosis during their lifetime? Metamorphosis, complete or simple, is how insects change form from a larva to an adult.

Insects are all around us in the world.  You can find them crawling on the ground, flying in the air, or even living under or on water.  In fact, there are far more insects in the world than there are other animals.  One thing that most insects have in common, no matter if they fly, crawl, or swim is that they undergo metamorphosis or change their form during their lifetime.

metamorphosis, butterfly

The adult form of a Painted Lady Butterfly.

What is Metamorphosis?

Most all insects (there are a couple of exceptions as there are with most things) start their life being  born from an egg.  Then as they live and grow older they change their form once or more until finally they become an adult that can reproduce.

Metamorphosis is a major change in the appearance or structure of an animal that occurs after the animal has been born.

metamorphosisThere Are Two Kinds of Metamorphosis Bugs Undergo?

The two kinds of metamorphosis are complete and simple.

simple metamorphosis diagram

An example of simple metamorphosis – egg -> larva -> adult.

Simple Metamorphosis: there are three stages in these insects’ life – egg, larva, and adult. The larva in this type is pretty much a smaller version of the adult, meaning that it looks the same.  These insects make a simple change from being a larva into an adult that can reproduce.


complete metamorphosis, diagram

An example of complete metamorphosis: egg -> larva -> pupa – > adult.

Complete Metamorphosis: there are four stages in these insects’ life – egg, larva, pupa, and adult.  Insects that undergo this type of change make a major change in shape from their larval stage to their adult stage.  The classic example of this is a butterfly that changes from a caterpillar to a butterfly.

What Are The Differences Between These Two Types Of Metamorphosis?

1 – The major difference between these two is that in complete metamorphosis there is a pupa stage.  This pupa stage is a resting stage, during which it seems that the insect performs magic.  The insect disappears inside its pupa, which could be a chrysalis (for butterflies) or cocoon (for moths).

Then somehow, inside that pupa the insect completely transforms itself into a different shaped insect.  Oftentimes the adult is more complex and beautiful than the larva.  It is like a magician put a caterpillar into a hat, whispered some magic words, and then pulled out a beautiful butterfly.

2 – Another difference between these two is the similarities between the larval and adult forms.  As I stated above, the larval form of the insect in simple metamorphosis is basically a miniature version of the adult.  In contrast, the larval form of the insect in complete metamorphosis may be completely different than the adult.

For More Information:

If you want to learn more, you can read about some of the common bugs of the Rocky Mountains.

Read about a number of things that make a bug a bug.

One of the differences between a butterfly and moth is the pupa they make – a chrysalis or cocoon.