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Part XIX : Colonizing and Populating Habitats :
Animal Life Cycles and Dispersal Index

Animal Life Cycles and Dispersal : Introduction
What is an Insect?
Complete Metamorphosis
Incomplete Metamorphosis
Chapter Summary (useful for revision)
Questions relating to this chapter

Topic Chapters Index

 

Fact File No.103

Although the adult stages of an insect's life may not live for very long the complete life of an insect may reach several years. In the United States there are species of cicada which can live for 13 or 17 years as nymphs. They live underground, feeding upon the roots of trees. The adults emerge, reproduce and die within a few weeks.

 

 

Some beetle larvae live and develop in the soil © Paul Billiet

Some beetle larvae live and develop in the soil

 

COLONIZING AND POPULATING HABITATS

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Moulting

 

Caterpillars are the larvae of butterflies © Paul Billiet

Caterpillars are the larvae of butterflies

 

The immature stage of an insect is called a larva (pl. larvae). Once an insect hatches from its egg it spends most of the time eating and growing. An insect is covered in an exoskeleton which can expand in size when it is new and still soft. Eventually the exoskeleton hardens and the insect larva cannot grow any bigger until it moults again.

Therefore, insect larvae need to moult periodically. They shed their old small exoskeleton so that they can grow a new one which is bigger. This means that insects grow in stages. Usually insects moult their exoskeletons between 4 and 10 times in their lives. The last time they moult they become an adult.

Moulting is a complicated procedure which can take several hours. This is the period in an insect's life when it is most vulnerable. It cannot escape from predators and its exoskeleton is soft. The insects try to hide away at times like this.

All insects moult their exoskeletons regularly as they grow but insects grow and develop in one of two ways. They are called: complete metamorphosis and incomplete metamorphosis.

 

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