Metamorphosis refers to the way that insects develop, grow and change form. Metamorphosis actually infers "change." The term is of Latin and Greek origins: meta means “change” and morphe means “form.” Metamorphosis describes the series of changes through which an insect passes in its growth from the egg stage (some insects, such as aphids, may produce eggs and/or give birth to live young) through the immature stages (ex., nymph, larva or pupa) to the adult stage.
For nearly three centuries, scientists have abided by a strict body of international rules when naming plants and animals (scientific names). This help to avoid confusion and redundancy when discussing or citing a specific plant or animal.
It appears that scientists are not ready to make a similar leap when it comes to the concept of insect metamorphosis. It can be confusing to amateur entomologists and gardeners alike when different naming conventions are provided by different entomologists for the same insect—at least when insect metamorphosis is concerned. Entomology departments within different universities across the USA do not seem to have a consensus for defining types of insect metamorphous.
We elected to use the definitions presented by Dr. Bastiaan M. Drees (Professor & Extension Entomologist, The Texas A&M University System) and Dr. John A. Jackman (Professor & Extension Entomologist, The Texas A&M University System) in their book entitled A Field Guide to Common Texas Insects (Gulf Publishing: Field Guide Series; ISBN 0-87719-263-4).
They describe two forms of insect metamorphosis (Simple Metamorphosis and Complete Metamorphosis):
I. Simple Metamorphosis (Egg > nymph > adult)
Note: Some naming conventions provide sub-categories for simple
metamorphosis as follows:
II. Complete Metamorphosis (Egg > Larva (more
precisely: larval instars) > pupa > adult )
These insects also have a resting stage known as a pupa. The pupal stage is a transition stage, when the larva is transformed to the adult. Wings, if present, develop internally within a pupa. Pupa molts to the adult form.
Insects with complete metamorphosis include lacewings (Order Neuroptera), beetles (Order Coleoptera), butterflies and moths (Order Lepidoptera), true flies (Order Diptera) and wasps and bees (Order Hymenoptera). In some insect orders, larvae are referred to by other names, such as maggots (flies), caterpillars (butterflies and moths) or grubs (beetles). Larvae of insects with complete metamorphosis usually have chewing mouthparts; many are pests of various crops.
There several additional naming conventions utilized by various university entomologists to describe insect metamorphosis. Examples include:
• Without Metamorphosis, Gradual Metamorphosis, Incomplete Metamorphosis &
Yes, there is a confusing (and/or perplexing) variety of naming conventions used by different scientists to describe insect metamorphosis. However, each approach seeks to address the process of metamorphosis in varying detail and precision.
The important concept that amateur entomologists and gardeners should understand is that an awareness of an insect’s metamorphosis provides important information on the life cycle of an insect. Whether an insect is considered a pest or beneficial, understanding its life cycle can help us learn how to attract/maintain beneficial insects and control/manage insect pests!
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