Animals That Go Through Metamorphosis

By Ameera Mills. Updated: July 3, 2018
Animals That Go Through Metamorphosis

Metamorphosis, in zoology, highlights a transformation experienced by certain animals from one form to another, in regular succession, from birth to adulthood. This metamorphosis is part of their biological development and not only affects their physiology, but also their behavior and lifestyle.

In this AnimalWised article we will explain which animals go through metamorphosis during their development. We will also be detailing the different types and phases of metamorphosis. Keep reading and find out everything you need to know about this natural process!

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What is metamorphosis?

To better understand the concept of "metamorphosis", we must comprehend its etymology. The term derives from Greek, composed of the following words: meta (beyond), morfé (figure or form) and -osis (change of state). Therefore meaning, the transormation from one to another.

Metamorphosis in animals is a sudden and irreversible change in physiology, morphology and behavior. It is a period in an animal' s life which corresponds to the change from the larval form to a juvenile or adult form. Insects, some fish and amphibians experience this change. Mammals, however, do not go through metamorphosis.

This phase of development is characterized by the birth of an autonomous larva, unable to reproduce sexually until its juvenile or adult stage, known as "imago" or "last stage". In addition, this metamorphosis phenomenon is not simply a superficial process, but also includes the;

  • Modification of organs
  • Modification of organic tissue
  • Adaptation to a new environment

The different types of metamorphosis

There are different types of metamorphosis that exist. It is important to know that, while in insects there is a change at a cellular level, in amphibians, this proceeding involves a modification in the animal's tissues. This change and modification is what differs the process between between insects and amphibians;

Metamorphosis in insects

In insects we can observe two types of metamorphosis, while in amphibians, there is one one. Metaphorphosis in insects consists of;

  • Hemimetabolism: is also known as paurometabolism or incomplete metamorphosis. During this type of metamorphosis the individual does not experience the "pupa" phase, which means it does not have a period of inactivity. In this phase the insect feeds constantly, increasing its size, until it reaches its adult stage. In the same species, each form of life has its own adaptation to its environment. Some examples of insects that go through hemimetabolism include; locusts or bedbugs.
  • Holometabolism: is also known as complete or complicated metamorphosis. In this case we can observe several different stages which pass through the pupa phase (which can last weeks or even years, depending on the species) until the birth of the imago. The change that takes place during this metamorphosis is radical. Some examples of animals that experience holometabolism are; butterflies, flies, the mosquitoes, bees or beetles.
  • Ametabolism: also called "ametabolía" refers to insects and arthropods that, when reaching their nymph stage, share certain similarities to the adult form. However, metamorphosis does not actually occur, this development is direct. Some examples of animals that experience this are; lice and mites.

In insects, metamorphosis is controlled by the steroidal prohormone "ecdysone". Ecdysone plays a key role in maintaining the larval characters in the animal's organism. Some insecticides however, substances that are used to kill or deter insects, have similar characteristics to these juvenile hormones and end up preventing the metamorphosis of the individual by complete inhibition.

Metamorphosis in amphibians

There are certain similarities that are apparent in amphibian metamorphosis and insect metamorphosis. These similarities are shown through both the larval phase (tadpole) and pupa phase (tadpole with limbs). Following this is the birth of the imago, also known as the adult stage. The most apparent example of this metamorphosis is seen with frogs.

After the "prometamorphosis" phase, when the animals' fingers become visible, an interdigital webbing membrane connects these digits to form paddle-shaped swimming feet. Following this, the pituitary gland hormone passes through the bloodstream to the thyroid. It then stimulates the production of the hormone thyroxine T4 that results in complete metamorphosis.

What is simple metamorphosis?

To better understand simple or incomplete metamorphosis, take a look at this example below illustrating the metamorphic process of a grasshopper!

It is born from a fertile egg and develops progressively, but doesn't pass a chrysalis phase. Their wings only appear in the later stages of its evolution. In addition, grasshoppers do not not sexually mature until they reach their adult stage.

Animals That Go Through Metamorphosis - What is simple metamorphosis?

Phases of complete metamorphosis

If we look at the butterfly as an example we can see that its evolution begins, as in the previous case, from a fertile egg. This egg hatches into a caterpillar. This individual will then feed and develop, until its hormones begin to change. The caterpillar will begin to wrap itself with a thread that it segregates, until it forms a chrysalis that covers it completely.

During this period of apparent inactivity, the caterpillar will begin to reabsorb its juvenile organs and transform its body completely, developing legs and wings. This inactive phase can last days or weeks.Then, when finished, the pupa will open, giving way to an adult butterfly.

Animals That Go Through Metamorphosis - Phases of complete metamorphosis

What is metamorphosis of amphibians?

To explain the phases of metamorphosis in amphibians, our subject will be the frog.

Frog eggs are fertilized in water, while surrounded by a gelatinous mass that protects them. They will develop until the larvae are fully formed and then, a tadpole, which has a head and tail, will be born. As the tadpole feeds and evolves, it will develop legs and, eventually, take on the figure of the adult frog. The final phase includes the loss of the tail, from there, the once tadpole will be considered a sexually mature frog.

Animals That Go Through Metamorphosis - What is metamorphosis of amphibians?

Which animals go through metamorphosis?

Take a look at this list of zoological groups of animals that undergo metamorphosis in their development:

  • Lissamphibia
  • Anurans
  • Urodeles
  • Arthropods
  • Insects
  • Crustaceans
  • Echinoderms
  • Molluscs (except cephalopods)
  • Agnathes
  • Salmoniform fish
  • Anguilliformes fish
  • Pleuronectiformes fish

If you want to read similar articles to Animals That Go Through Metamorphosis, we recommend you visit our Facts about the animal kingdom category.

  • Rowe L, Ludwig D (1991) Size and timing of metamorphosis in complex life cycles: time constraints and variation. Ecology 72:413-427
  • Semlitch RD, Scott DE, Pechmann JHK (1988) Time and size at metamorphosis related to adult fittness in Ambystoma talpoidium. Ecology 96:184-192
  • Twombly S (1996) Timing of metamorphosis in a freshwater crustacean: comparisons with anuran models. Ecology 77:1855-1866

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