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Larva of the Papilio xuthus butterfly Papilio xuthus Larva 2011-10-15.jpg
Larva of the Papilio xuthus butterfly

A larva /ˈlɑːrvə/ (plural larvae /ˈlɑːrv/ ) is a distinct juvenile form many animals undergo before metamorphosis into adults. Animals with indirect development such as insects, amphibians, or cnidarians typically have a larval phase of their life cycle.


The larva's appearance is generally very different from the adult form (e.g. caterpillars and butterflies) including different unique structures and organs that do not occur in the adult form. Their diet may also be considerably different.

Larvae are frequently adapted to different environments than adults. For example, some larvae such as tadpoles live almost exclusively in aquatic environments, but can live outside water as adult frogs. By living in a distinct environment, larvae may be given shelter from predators and reduce competition for resources with the adult population.

Animals in the larval stage will consume food to fuel their transition into the adult form. In some organisms like polychaetes and barnacles, adults are immobile but their larvae are mobile, and use their mobile larval form to distribute themselves. [1] [2]

Some larvae are dependent on adults to feed them. In many eusocial Hymenoptera species, the larvae are fed by female workers. In Ropalidia marginata (a paper wasp) the males are also capable of feeding larvae but they are much less efficient, spending more time and getting less food to the larvae. [3]

The larvae of some organisms (for example, some newts) can become pubescent and do not develop further into the adult form. This is a type of neoteny. [4]

Eurosta solidaginis Goldenrod Gall Fly larva Eurosta solidaginis larva.jpg
Eurosta solidaginis Goldenrod Gall Fly larva

It is a misunderstanding that the larval form always reflects the group's evolutionary history. This could be the case, but often the larval stage has evolved secondarily, as in insects. [5] [6] In these cases the larval form may differ more than the adult form from the group's common origin. [7]

Selected types of larvae

AnimalName of larvae
Porifera (sponges)coeloblastula (= blastula, amphiblastula), parenchymula (= parenchymella, stereogastrula)
Heterocyemida Wagener's larva
Dicyemida infusoriform larva
Cnidarians planula (= stereogastrula), actinula
Ctenophora cydippid larvae
Platyhelminthes Turbellaria: Müller's larva, Götte’s larva;
Trematoda: miracidium, sporocyst, redia, cercaria;
Monogenea: oncomiracidium;
Cestoda: cysticercus, cysticercoid, oncosphere (or hexacanth), coracidium, plerocercoid
Annelida nectochaete, polytroch
Nematoda Dauer larva, microfilaria
Sipuncula pelagosphera larva
Ectoprocta cyphonautes, vesiculariform larvae
Nematomorpha nematomorphan larva
Phoronids actinotroch
Cycliophora pandora, chordoid larva
Nemertea pilidium, Iwata larva, Desor larva
Acanthocephala acanthor
Locifera Higgins larva
Brachiopoda lobate larva
Priapula loricate larva
Certain molluscs, annelids, nemerteans and sipunculids trochophore
Certain molluscs veliger
Mollusca: freshwater Bivalvia (mussels) glochidium
Arthropoda: †Trilobita protaspis (unjointed), meraspis (increasing number of joints, but 1 less than the holaspis), holaspis (=adult) [8]
Arthropoda: Xiphosura euproöps larva ("trilobite larva")
Arthropoda: Pycnogonida protonymphon
Crustaceans General: nauplius, metanauplius, protozoea, antizoea, pseudozoea, zoea, postlarva, cypris, primary larva, mysis
Decapoda: zoea
Rhizocephala: kentrogon
Insecta: Lepidoptera (butterflies and moths) caterpillar
Insecta: Beetles grub
Insecta: Flies, Bees, Wasps maggot
Insecta: Mosquitoes wriggler
Deuterostomes dipleurula (hypothetical larva)
Echinodermata bipinnaria, vitellaria, brachiollaria, pluteus, ophiopluteus, echinopluteus, auricularia
Hemichordata tornaria
Urochordata tadpole (does not feed, technically a "swimming embryo")
Fish (generally) Ichthyoplankton
Fish: Petromyzontiformes (lamprey) ammocoete
Fish: Anguilliformes (eels) leptocephalus
Amphibians tadpole, polliwog

Insect larvae

The larvae of the Hercules beetle (Dynastes hercules) are among the largest of any species of insect Hercules beetle (larva).jpg
The larvae of the Hercules beetle (Dynastes hercules) are among the largest of any species of insect
Campodeiform larva of Micromus sp. Micromus.aphids.2.jpg
Campodeiform larva of Micromus sp.

Within Insects, only Endopterygotes show complete metamorphosis, including a distinct larval stage. [9] [10] Several classifications have been suggested by many entomologists, [11] [12] and following classification is based on Antonio Berlese classification in 1913. There are four main types of endopterygote larvae types: [13] [14]

  1. Apodous larvae – no legs at all and are poorly sclerotized. Based on sclerotization, three apodous forms are recognized.
  2. Protopod larvae – larva have many different forms and often unlike a normal insect form. They hatch from eggs which contains very little yolk. E.g. first instar larvae of parasitic hymenoptera.
  3. Polypod larvae – also known as eruciform larvae, these larva have abdominal prolegs, in addition to usual thoracic legs. They poorly sclerotized and relatively inactive. They live in close contact with the food. Best example is caterpillars of lepidopterans.
  4. Oligopod larvae – have well developed head capsule and mouthparts are similar to the adult, but without compound eyes. They have six legs. No abdominal prolegs. Two types can be seen:
    • Campodeiform – well sclerotized, dorso-ventrally flattened body. Usually long legged predators with prognathous mouthparts. (lacewing, trichopterans, mayflies and some coleopterans).
    • Scarabeiform – poorly sclerotized, flat thorax and abdomen. Usually short legged and inactive burrowing forms. (Scarabaeoidea and other coleopterans).

See also

Related Research Articles

Hymenoptera Order of insects comprising sawflies, wasps, bees, and [ants]

Hymenoptera is a large order of insects, comprising the sawflies, wasps, bees, and ants. Over 150,000 living species of Hymenoptera have been described, in addition to over 2,000 extinct ones. Many of the species are parasitic.

Invertebrate Animals without a vertebrate column

Invertebrates are animals that neither possess nor develop a vertebral column, derived from the notochord. This includes all animals apart from the chordate subphylum Vertebrata. Familiar examples of invertebrates include arthropods, mollusks, annelid, and cnidarians.

Metamorphosis Profound change in body structure during the postembryonic development of an organism

Metamorphosis is a biological process by which an animal physically develops after birth or hatching, involving a conspicuous and relatively abrupt change in the animal's body structure through cell growth and differentiation. Some insects, fish, amphibians, mollusks, crustaceans, cnidarians, echinoderms, and tunicates undergo metamorphosis, which is often accompanied by a change of nutrition source or behavior. Animals can be divided into species that undergo complete metamorphosis ("holometaboly"), incomplete metamorphosis ("hemimetaboly"), or no metamorphosis ("ametaboly").

Lepidoptera Order of insects including moths and butterflies

Lepidoptera is an order of insects that includes butterflies and moths. About 180,000 species of the Lepidoptera are described, in 126 families and 46 superfamilies, 10 percent of the total described species of living organisms. It is one of the most widespread and widely recognizable insect orders in the world. The Lepidoptera show many variations of the basic body structure that have evolved to gain advantages in lifestyle and distribution. Recent estimates suggest the order may have more species than earlier thought, and is among the four most speciose orders, along with the Hymenoptera, Diptera, and Coleoptera.

Silphidae Family of beetles

Silphidae is a family of beetles that are known commonly as large carrion beetles, carrion beetles or burying beetles. There are two subfamilies: Silphinae and Nicrophorinae. Nicrophorines are sometimes known as sexton beetles. The number of species is relatively small and around two hundred. They are more diverse in the temperate region although a few tropical endemics are known. Both subfamilies feed on decaying organic matter such as dead animals. The subfamilies differ in which uses parental care and which types of carcasses they prefer. Silphidae are considered to be of importance to forensic entomologists because when they are found on a decaying body they are used to help estimate a post-mortem interval.

Pupa Life stage of some insects undergoing transformation

A pupa is the life stage of some insects undergoing transformation between immature and mature stages. Insects that go through a pupal stage are holometabolous: they go through four distinct stages in their life cycle, the stages thereof being egg, larva, pupa, and imago. The processes of entering and completing the pupal stage are controlled by the insect's hormones, especially juvenile hormone, prothoracicotropic hormone, and ecdysone. The act of becoming a pupa is called pupation, and the act of emerging from the pupal case is called eclosion or emergence.

Sawfly Suborder of insects

Sawflies are the insects of the suborder Symphyta within the order Hymenoptera alongside ants, bees and wasps. The common name comes from the saw-like appearance of the ovipositor, which the females use to cut into the plants where they lay their eggs. The name is associated especially with the Tenthredinoidea, by far the largest superfamily in the suborder, with about 7,000 known species; in the entire suborder, there are 8,000 described species in more than 800 genera. Symphyta is paraphyletic, consisting of several basal groups within the order Hymenoptera, each one rooted inside the previous group, ending with the Apocrita which are not sawflies.

Megaloptera Order of insects

Megaloptera is an order of insects. It contains the alderflies, dobsonflies and fishflies, and there are about 300 known species.

Caddisfly Order of caddisflies

The caddisflies, or order Trichoptera, are a group of insects with aquatic larvae and terrestrial adults. There are approximately 14,500 described species, most of which can be divided into the suborders Integripalpia and Annulipalpia on the basis of the adult mouthparts. Integripalpian larvae construct a portable casing to protect themselves as they move around looking for food, while Annulipalpian larvae make themselves a fixed retreat in which they remain, waiting for food to come to them. The affinities of the small third suborder Spicipalpia are unclear, and molecular analysis suggests it may not be monophyletic. Also called sedge-flies or rail-flies, the adults are small moth-like insects with two pairs of hairy membranous wings. They are closely related to the Lepidoptera which have scales on their wings; the two orders together form the superorder Amphiesmenoptera.


A veliger is the planktonic larva of many kinds of sea snails and freshwater snails, as well as most bivalve molluscs (clams) and tusk shells.

Holometabolism, also called complete metamorphosis, is a form of insect development which includes four life stages: egg, larva, pupa, and imago. Holometabolism is a synapomorphic trait of all insects in the superorder Endopterygota. Immature stages of holometabolous insects are very different from the mature stage. In some species the holometabolous life cycle prevents larvae from competing with adults because they inhabit different ecological niches. The morphology and behavior of each stage are adapted for different activities. For example, larval traits maximize feeding, growth, and development, while adult traits enable dispersal, mating, and egg laying. Some species of holometabolous insects protect and feed their offspring. Other insect developmental strategies include ametabolism and hemimetabolism.

Ceratopogonidae Family of flies commonly known as no-see-ums, or biting midges

Ceratopogonidae is a family of flies commonly known as no-see-ums, or biting midges, generally 1–3 mm in length. The family includes more than 5,000 species, distributed worldwide, apart from the Antarctic and the Arctic.

The arthropod leg is a form of jointed appendage of arthropods, usually used for walking. Many of the terms used for arthropod leg segments are of Latin origin, and may be confused with terms for bones: coxa, trochanter, femur, tibia, tarsus, ischium, metatarsus, carpus, dactylus, patella.

Marine larval ecology is the study of the factors influencing dispersing larvae, which many marine invertebrates and fishes have. Marine animals with a larva typically release many larvae into the water column, where the larvae develop before metamorphosing into adults.

Ephemerellidae Family of mayflies

Ephemerellidae are known as the spiny crawler mayflies. They are a family of the order Ephemeroptera. There are 8 genera consisting of a total 90 species. They are distributed throughout North America as well as the UK. Their habitat is lotic-erosional, they are found in all sizes of flowing streams on different types of substrates where there is reduced flow. They are even found on the shores of lakes and beaches where there is wave action present. They move by swimming and clinging, they are very well camouflaged. Most species have one generation per year. They are mostly collector-gatherers.

External morphology of Lepidoptera External features of butterflies and moths

The external morphology of Lepidoptera is the physiological structure of the bodies of insects belonging to the order Lepidoptera, also known as butterflies and moths. Lepidoptera are distinguished from other orders by the presence of scales on the external parts of the body and appendages, especially the wings. Butterflies and moths vary in size from microlepidoptera only a few millimetres long, to a wingspan of many inches such as the Atlas moth. Comprising over 160,000 described species, the Lepidoptera possess variations of the basic body structure which has evolved to gain advantages in adaptation and distribution.

Insect morphology Description of the physical form of insects

Insect morphology is the study and description of the physical form of insects. The terminology used to describe insects is similar to that used for other arthropods due to their shared evolutionary history. Three physical features separate insects from other arthropods: they have a body divided into three regions, have three pairs of legs, and mouthparts located outside of the head capsule. It is this position of the mouthparts which divides them from their closest relatives, the non-insect hexapods, which includes Protura, Diplura, and Collembola.

<i>Amphimedon queenslandica</i> Species of sponge

Amphimedon queenslandica is a sponge native to the Great Barrier Reef. Its genome has been sequenced. It has been the subject of various studies on the evolution of metazoan development.

Crustacean larva

Crustaceans may pass through a number of larval and immature stages between hatching from their eggs and reaching their adult form. Each of the stages is separated by a moult, in which the hard exoskeleton is shed to allow the animal to grow. The larvae of crustaceans often bear little resemblance to the adult, and there are still cases where it is not known what larvae will grow into what adults. This is especially true of crustaceans which live as benthic adults, more-so than where the larvae are planktonic, and thereby easily caught.

<i>Lomechusa pubicollis</i> Species of beetle

Lomechusa pubicollis is a species of rove beetle in the family Staphylinidae. It is unusual in that its larvae develop in the nests of one species of ant and the immature adults overwinter in the nest of another species of ant. These beetles are highly specialised myrmecophiles, tricking the ants into caring for them, and one of about 125 species of invertebrates that rely on spending part of their lives in and around the nests of red wood ants.


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