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

A larva (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 environments separate from 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 species like barnacles, adults are immobile but their larvae are mobile, and use their mobile larval form to distribute themselves.

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. [1]

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

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.[ citation needed ] In these cases the larval form may differ more than the adult form from the group's common origin. [2]

Insect larvae

Within Insects, only Endopterygotes show different types of larvae. [3] Several classifications have been suggested by many entomologists, [4] and following classification is based on Antonio Berlese classification in 1913. There are four main types of endopterygote larvae types: [5]

See also

Related Research Articles

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").

Pupa Life stage of some insects undergoing transformation

A pupa is the life stage of some insects undergoing transformation between immature and mature stages. The pupal stage is found only in holometabolous insects, those that undergo a complete metamorphosis, with four life stages: 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.

Instar A developmental stage of arthropods between moults

An instar is a developmental stage of arthropods, such as insects, between each moult (ecdysis), until sexual maturity is reached. Arthropods must shed the exoskeleton in order to grow or assume a new form. Differences between instars can often be seen in altered body proportions, colors, patterns, changes in the number of body segments or head width. After moulting, i.e. shedding their exoskeleton, the juvenile arthropods continue in their life cycle until they either pupate or moult again. The instar period of growth is fixed; however, in some insects, like the salvinia stem-borer moth, the number of instars depends on early larval nutrition. Some arthropods can continue to moult after sexual maturity, but the stages between these subsequent moults are generally not called instars.

<i>Gasterophilus</i> genus of insects

The Gasterophilus, commonly known as botfly, is a parasitic fly from the family Oestridae that affects different types of animals, especially horses, but it can also act on cows, sheep, goats and, even, it has been recorded a case in a human baby.

Histeridae Family of beetles

Histeridae is a family of beetles commonly known as clown beetles or Hister beetles. This very diverse group of beetles contains 3,900 species found worldwide. They can be easily identified by their shortened elytra that leaves two of the seven tergites exposed, and their elbowed antennae with clubbed ends. These predatory feeders are most active at night and will fake death if they feel threatened. This family of beetles will occupy almost any kind of niche throughout the world. Hister beetles have proved useful during forensic investigations to help in time of death estimation. Also, certain species are used in the control of livestock pests that infest dung and to control houseflies. Because they are predacious and will even eat other Hister beetles, they must be isolated when collected.

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 insects

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 or adult. 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 A 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.

Juvenile (organism) individual organism that has not yet reached its adult form, sexual maturity, size;if transition from juvenile to fully mature is a more prolonged process (puberty for example), then juveniles during this transformation are sometimes called subadults

A juvenile is an individual organism that has not yet reached its adult form, sexual maturity or size. Juveniles sometimes look very different from the adult form, particularly in colour. In many organisms the juvenile has a different name from the adult.


A planidium is a specialized form of first-instar insect larva, seen in a few families of insect species that have parasitoidal ways of life. Planidial instars generally are flattened, highly sclerotized, have functional legs or other means of locomotion, and are quite mobile. In some species planidia have eyes, in others not. The function of the planidial stage is to find a host on which the later larval instars may feed, generally until the insect pupates.

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 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.

<i>Ropalidia marginata</i> species of insect

Ropalidia marginata is an Old World species of paper wasp. It is primitively eusocial, not showing the same bias in brood care seen in other social insects with greater asymmetry in relatedness. The species employees a variety of colony founding strategies, sometimes with single founders and sometimes in groups of variable number. The queen does not use physical dominance to control workers; there is evidence of pheromones being used to suppress other female workers from overtaking queenship.

External morphology of Lepidoptera The external features of butterflies and moths are described and explained.

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.

Crustacean larva crustacean larval and immature stages between hatching and adult form

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.

Ichthyoplankton The eggs and larvae of fish that drift in the water column

Ichthyoplankton are the eggs and larvae of fish. They are mostly found in the sunlit zone of the water column, less than 200 metres deep, which is sometimes called the epipelagic or photic zone. Ichthyoplankton are planktonic, meaning they cannot swim effectively under their own power, but must drift with the ocean currents. Fish eggs cannot swim at all, and are unambiguously planktonic. Early stage larvae swim poorly, but later stage larvae swim better and cease to be planktonic as they grow into juveniles. Fish larvae are part of the zooplankton that eat smaller plankton, while fish eggs carry their own food supply. Both eggs and larvae are themselves eaten by larger animals.

The Diptera is a very large and diverse order of mostly small to medium-sized insects. They have prominent compound eyes on a mobile head, and one pair of functional, membraneous wings, which are attached to a complex mesothorax. The second pair of wings, on the metathorax, are reduced to halteres. The order's fundamental peculiarity is its remarkable specialization in terms of wing shape and the morpho-anatomical adaptation of the thorax – features which lend particular agility to its flying forms. The filiform, stylate or aristate antennae correlate with the Nematocera, Brachycera and Cyclorrhapha taxa respectively. It displays substantial morphological uniformity in lower taxa, especially at the level of genus or species. The configuration of integumental bristles is of fundamental importance in their taxonomy, as is wing venation. It displays a complete metamorphosis, or holometabolous development. The larvae are legless, and have head capsules with mandibulate mouthparts in the Nematocera. The larvae of "higher flies" (Brachycera) are however headless and wormlike, and display only three instars. Pupae are obtect in the Nematocera, or coarcate in Brachycera.


  1. Sen, R; Gadagkar, R (2006). "Males of the social wasp Ropalidia marginata can feed larvae, given an opportunity". Animal Behaviour. 71 (2): 345–350. doi:10.1016/j.anbehav.2005.04.022.
  2. Williamson, Donald I. (2006). "Hybridization in the evolution of animal form and life-cycle". Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society. 148 (4): 585–602. doi:10.1111/j.1096-3642.2006.00236.x.
  3. "Recognizing Insect Larval Types". University of Kentucky. Retrieved 28 April 2016.
  4. "Insect Larval Forms". Retrieved 28 April 2016.
  5. "Types of Insect Larva". Agri info. Archived from the original on 14 May 2016. Retrieved 28 April 2016.