What Is Metamorphosis?


Metamorphosis is the process by which an organism undergoes a dramatic transformation in its physical form and behavior, typically from one life stage to another. This process is seen in a variety of organisms, from insects to amphibians and even in some mammals. The transformation can be gradual or abrupt, and the changes that occur can be both physical and behavioral. In this tutorial, we will delve deeper into the world of metamorphosis and explore its various forms and functions.

Types of Metamorphosis

There are two main types of metamorphosis: incomplete and complete.

Incomplete Metamorphosis

Incomplete metamorphosis is seen in insects such as grasshoppers, crickets, and cockroaches. In this process, the insect hatches from an egg as a nymph, which resembles a miniature version of the adult. The nymph undergoes several molts, shedding its exoskeleton and growing in size until it reaches adulthood. During this process, the nymph's wings and reproductive organs develop.

Example of Incomplete Metamorphosis

An example of incomplete metamorphosis is the life cycle of a grasshopper. In incomplete metamorphosis, the insect goes through three stages: egg, nymph, and adult. The nymph stage resembles the adult stage but lacks wings and reproductive organs.

The first stage of the grasshopper's life cycle is the egg stage, during which the female grasshopper lays her eggs in the soil. The eggs hatch into nymphs, which resemble small versions of the adult grasshopper but without wings. The nymphs grow through several molts, shedding their exoskeleton as they grow, but they do not undergo any significant changes in form during this time.

During the nymph stage, the grasshopper feeds and grows rapidly, shedding its skin several times as it grows. As the nymph grows, it develops wings and reproductive organs. When the grasshopper reaches its final nymphal stage, it undergoes a period of dormancy before molting one final time into the adult stage.

In the adult stage, the grasshopper has fully developed wings and reproductive organs and is capable of mating and reproducing. The adult grasshopper will continue to grow and molt throughout its life but will not undergo any significant changes in form as it matures.

The incomplete metamorphosis of a grasshopper is an adaptation that allows the insect to rapidly adapt to changing environmental conditions. The grasshopper can rapidly grow and develop during the nymph stage, without the need for a period of dormancy or transformation, which would slow down its growth and development.

Complete Metamorphosis

In complete metamorphosis, which is seen in insects such as butterflies, moths, and beetles, the transformation is more dramatic. The insect hatches from an egg as a larva, which is a worm-like creature that is very different in appearance and behavior from the adult. The larva undergoes several molts and grows in size before entering a pupal stage. During this stage, the insect undergoes a complete transformation, with its body structure and organs reorganized and reconfigured. The pupal stage is followed by emergence as an adult insect.

Example of Complete Metamorphosis

There are many examples of complete metamorphosis in the natural world, but one of the most well-known and fascinating is the metamorphosis of a butterfly. The metamorphosis of a butterfly involves four distinct stages: the egg, larva, pupa, and adult. During the egg stage, the female butterfly lays her eggs on the underside of leaves. These eggs are tiny and round and usually laid in groups.

The second stage of the metamorphosis is the larval stage, during which the butterfly hatches from the egg as a tiny caterpillar. The caterpillar feeds voraciously on leaves and grows rapidly, molting its skin several times as it grows. The caterpillar's primary goal during this stage is to eat and grow as much as possible in preparation for the next stage of its life cycle.

The third stage of metamorphosis is the pupal stage, during which the caterpillar transforms into a pupa or chrysalis. This stage is a period of dormancy and reorganization, during which the caterpillar's body is broken down and reconfigured into the adult butterfly's form. The pupa is usually suspended from a leaf or stem, and the transformation takes place inside the chrysalis.

The final stage of metamorphosis is the adult stage, during which the butterfly emerges from the chrysalis as a fully formed adult. The adult butterfly has a different form and behavior than the caterpillar, with wings for flight and specialized mouthparts for drinking nectar.

Functions of Metamorphosis

Metamorphosis serves a variety of functions for different organisms. In insects, metamorphosis is an adaptation that allows the larvae to feed and grow without competition from the adult form. The larva can occupy a different ecological niche than the adult and feed on different food sources. Once the larva has grown and developed, it undergoes metamorphosis and emerges as an adult that can reproduce and continue the life cycle.

Metamorphosis also plays a role in adaptation to changing environments. For example, some amphibians undergo metamorphosis from an aquatic tadpole to a terrestrial frog or toad. This transformation allows them to leave the water and explore new habitats on land.

The process of metamorphosis is also important in the development of certain structures in the body. For example, the development of wings in insects occurs during the pupal stage of complete metamorphosis. The pupal stage allows the wings to develop and form properly before the adult emerges.

Significance of Metamorphosis

Metamorphosis has fascinated scientists and naturalists for centuries. The transformation that occurs during metamorphosis is truly remarkable, and it has been studied extensively to better understand the underlying biological mechanisms that drive it.

In addition to its scientific significance, metamorphosis has also played a significant role in human culture and mythology. The transformation of the butterfly from a caterpillar to an adult has been used as a symbol of transformation and rebirth in many cultures. The Greek myth of Narcissus, who transformed into a flower, is another example of the cultural significance of metamorphosis.


Metamorphosis is a fascinating and complex process that occurs in a wide range of organisms. Whether it is the gradual transformation of a grasshopper from a nymph to an adult or the dramatic transformation of a butterfly from a caterpillar to an adult, metamorphosis serves a variety of functions and plays an important role in the natural world. As scientists continue to study the mechanisms that drive metamorphosis, we are sure to gain even greater insight into this fascinating process and its significance in the natural world.


Q1: Can environmental factors affect the outcome of metamorphosis in insects?

Ans: Yes, environmental factors such as temperature, humidity, and food availability can affect the outcome of metamorphosis in insects. For example, if environmental conditions are unfavorable, the insect may not complete metamorphosis successfully.

Q2: Is metamorphosis a reversible process?

Ans: No, metamorphosis is a one-way process that cannot be reversed once it has begun. Once an insect enters the pupal stage, for example, it cannot revert to the larval stage. However, some insects can undergo a process known as hypermetamorphosis, which involves undergoing additional stages of metamorphosis after the typical larval-pupal-adult stages.

Q3: Can metamorphosis occur in animals other than insects?

Ans: Metamorphosis is most commonly observed in insects, but it can also occur in other animals, such as amphibians and some fish species. However, the process of metamorphosis may differ in these animals compared to insects.

Updated on: 19-Apr-2023


Kickstart Your Career

Get certified by completing the course

Get Started