A kind of metamorphosis in which insects undergo complete physical change, i.e. developing and going through four life stages: embryo, larva, pupa and imago.
For example, in the life cycle of a butterfly, the embryo grows within the egg, hatching into the larval stage caterpillar, before entering the pupal stage within its chrysalis and finally emerging as an adult butterfly imago.
Examples of insect groups showing complete metamorphosis include:
- Coleoptera – Beetles
- Diptera – Flies
- Hymenoptera – Ants, bees, sawflies and wasps
- Lepidoptera – Butterflies and moths
- Mecoptera – Scorpionflies
- Megaloptera – Alderflies, dobsonflies and fishflies
- Miomoptera (extinct)
- Neuroptera – Lacewings, antlions, etc.
- Protodiptera (extinct)
- Raphidioptera – Snakeflies
- Siphonaptera – Fleas
- Strepsiptera – Twisted-winged parasites
- Trichoptera – Caddisflies
Word origin: Latin metamorphōsis, from Greek, from metamorphoun, to transform: meta-, meta- + morphē, form.
Synonym: holometabolism, holometaboly.
Compare: incomplete metamorphosis.
See also: metamorphosis.