Complete vs. Incomplete Metamorphosis for kids: Larva, pupa, nymph, naiad defined

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Published at : 14 Jan 2021
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Which insects go through a complete and incomplete metamorphoses? What's a larva, pupa, nymph and naiad? Find out with Lucas Miller's "Speaking Scientifically" Episode 2!

Most "baby" insects will have a very different body plan when they are adults. A caterpillar turning into a butterfly is an obvious example but beetles, flies, bees, wasps and ants also go through complete metamorphoses.

From the egg will come a form called a larva--caterpillars, grubs and maggots are all larvae. They have six legs but may also have some prolegs or "false" legs and their exoskeleton will be softer. Their bodies often lack the distinct head, thorax and abdomen you see on adult insects.

The next stage is called a pupa which generally can't move or eat (since they lack legs or even a head!). The chrysalis of a butterfly is a kind of pupa. Inside the pupa, the adult body forms.

The adult, or imago, emerges from the pupa and will usually have wings.

Some insects undergo an incomplete metamorphosis. This includes mantids, roaches, dragonflies, grasshoppers & crickets, cicadas and true bugs like aphids and bedbugs. Oh, and lice. Don't forget those guys...

"Babies" here are called nymphs or, if they live in the water, naiads. There will be no confusing prolegs or anything, they'll simply have six, distinct legs and you'll recognize head, thorax and abdomen even in the first stage. Nymphs and naiads look much more like the adult form than larvae do but they may look different enough that you'd have a hard time recognizing them. A dragonfly nymph looks pretty different AND lives a totally lifestyle so that really is a profound metamorphosis.

As they mature, they will GRADUALLY grow wings (I was not clear about this in the video). After each moulting, the wings will be become progressively larger but they won't really function as wings until they are adults.

Did you know some insects, like the silverfish, don't go through a metamorphosis at all? They are wingless insects and the nymphs are simply smaller versions of the adults. These seem to be closer to the "original" insects that appeared before the age of the dinosaurs.

I hope that helps.

Thanks to John & Kendra Abbott for the dragonfly larva photo. Check out more of their amazing work at www.abbottnaturephotography.com.

Thanks to Marvin Smith for allowing use through Creative Commons of his adult dragonfly image found at https://goo.gl/Tw0vXt

This image was cropped to emphasize the insect

The grasshopper photos seen here: https://goo.gl/35imTC and here: https://goo.gl/cDShzH are by João Coelho. Also made available through the Creative Commons. The nymph photo was cropped and the adult picture was flipped horizontally and cropped.

The monarch clips were licensed through iStockphoto

The Creative Common license can be found at https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/legalcode
complete metamorphosesincomplete metamorphosis for kidsincomplete metamorphoses

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