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In most cases, you can expect the child form of a creature and the adult form of a creature to be rather similar. Kittens look like cats, puppies look like dogs, etc. This isn't always the case, though, such as in certain insects that go through metamorphosis. The most obvious example is caterpillars becoming butterflies, but there are even weirder examples.

Naturally, fiction has played with the concept. It's not an uncommon occurrence for parasitic grubs to become giant lizards, or fuzzy rabbitlike creatures to grow up to become bearlike behemoths. If you weren't told they were the same creature, you never would believe it.

Naturally, the most extreme cases present a problem for artists. How do you go about creating the intermediate stage between an insect and a dragon? In many cases, they don't bother. The transitional stages are either never shown onscreen, or the creature will use a form of cocooning that prevents the audience from seeing its metamorphosis.

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If the adult form is significantly stronger, this can act as a species-wide Magikarp Power, but sometimes the different forms are dangerous in different ways. While this is often used for a species-wide One-Winged Angel or to introduce more powerful forms of old enemies, occasionally it's just for weirdness' sake.

See also Metamorphosis. Closely related to Pupating Peril. Gigantic Adults, Tiny Babies may apply if the metamorphosis also involves a drastic size change.


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Examples:

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    Anime and Manga 
  • Ayakashi Triangle: Ikon metamorphose as they absorb more Life Energy, gradually becoming more like the humans whose negative emotions spawn them. They are initially amorphous masses made of pitch-black faces like human skulls, which gradually become larger and take more defined (often bipedal) shapes. Next, they become the fully-solid iyo, incredibly bizarre monsters whose only commonality are some humanlike features, usually (parts of) human faces (and not just one each) or articles of clothing. Finally, a small number of iyo gain fully-human intelligence and mature into jinyo, starting as featureless jet-black humanoids and ending up visibly indistinguishable from regular humans.
  • Most officially defined evolutionary lines in Digimon fall under this; lines with a consistently maturing appearance are the minority and are generally specifically designed as protagonists of an anime series. Perhaps the standout example is Patamon of Digimon Adventure, who evolves from a vaguely-defined small orange flying meatloaf/batpig mammal thing into an angel. In the broader canon, most Digimon have a wide variety of forms to which they can evolve, generally not restricted to specific lines, and so pretty much any and every Digimon can be an example of this.
    • And it gets worse than him. His line is at least pig thing with ribbon ears > pig thing with batwing ears > angel > bigger angel. However, Gatomon's is puppy > cat > angel > dragon.
    • There are also situations where the onscreen evolution is not the most obvious one from the cards or games. Take Gotsumon, a child-sized Rock Monster. In the card games, he has a moderately developed evolution line that consists of Palette Swaps (he evolves to Icemon and Meteormon). In 02, however, he instead becomes the rhino-like Monochromon. Now, Monochromon (Champion-level) has its own Palette Swap evolution Vermillimon (Ultimate), but in Digimon Frontier and Digimon Data Squad, different Gotsumon appear who evolve into Meteormon, which suggests that Monochromon can branch back into Gotsumon's Palette Swap line.
    • Go look up evolution lines on a Digimon wiki (like Wikimon) and see how many different evolution possibilities there are.
  • Cell from Dragon Ball Z evolves from a half-insect, half-lizard monster to a humanoid. His intermediate stage is a vaguely humanoid hulk, who for some reason lacks the wing that both his initial and final stage have.

    Comic Books 
  • Gosamyr, a friend of the New Mutants, was a member of an alien race whose members undergo through this. At first, they're cute, delicate, winged creatures (although with the annoying ability to empathically - and involuntarily - cause conflicts among male humans), but then they enter the cocoon phase (which lasts centuries) which would turn them into their adult form: gargantuan abominations.

    Fan Works 

    Films — Live-Action 
  • The Xenomorphs from Alien also have a peculiar lifecycle: It could be described as haplodiplontic, with the "gametophyte" being a creature that could be described as a mismatch of hands/legs, tail and genitalia that lives just to seek a host to impregnate, and the "sporophyte" developing in the body cavity of the host, emerging violently as a snake-like creature, and quickly growing up into a large, 4-limbed biomechanoid creature with some traits reminiscent of the host species, but taller and slimmer. If it grows into a fertile queen, it also changes its limb structure, grows an additional pair of arms, increases in size, and loses the host-like characters.
  • Irys from the film Gamera 3: Awakening of Irys goes from a strange-looking yet somehow adorable snail-like creature with tons of tentacles to a giant bipedal monster with tentacles with spears on the ends, swords for arms, and a cone-shaped head with a single glowing eyeball.
  • Gremlins: The Mogwai multiply if gotten wet, and transform if fed after midnight, turning into much more malicious, vaguely reptilian creatures who live to cause mayhem.
  • The Graboids of Tremors go through a multi-stage "alternation of generations" metamorphosis similar to the aforementioned Xenomorphs, hatching as slug-like "dirt dragon" larvae, which grow into the familiar bus-sized Sand Worms, which spawn numerous bipedal Shriekers sporophyte-style, which metamorphose into the winged, egg-laying Ass Blasters. The African species seems to cut out the less efficient Shrieker phase.
  • Ultra Series films:
    • Beast the One from Ultraman: The Next begins as a massless glob of light, who absorbs other living objects into itself, eventually revealed into a reptilian-humanoid monster. Taken a step further in the penultimate battle as it fought Ultraman Nexus, when the battle requires both combatants to take to the skies, Beast the One then absorbs hundreds and hundreds or ravens from across the city, and sprouts giant raven wings as well as two additional raven heads on it's body.
    • The iconic Ultraman monster, Zetton, is given this treatment in Ultraman Saga thanks to being upgraded by the sphires. It goes from an ordiniary-looking Zetton to a giant, centipede-looking monstrosity called Gigant Hyper Zetton several times larger than the Ultramen (strangely it's head doesn't grow as much compared to the rest of the body) and after being defeated by the combined efforts of Ultraman Zero, Ultraman Cosmos and Ultraman Dyna, Zetton then reduces size into a Hyper Form with wings, bladed arms, and a faster, more slender design compared to the classic Zetton.

    Literature 
  • InCryptid: Finfolk look just like humans (and can interbreed with them) until sometime in their teens or early 20s, when they start showing scales and turning into merpeople. Exposure to the sea can speed up this change. This also slowly erases their memory of their life on land, and by old age they're little more than non-sapient gigantic fish, which won't hesitate to eat their own children or grandchildren.
  • Inheritance Cycle has a humanoid species named Ra'zac. They ride big winged creatures, which are the next step in their life cycle (and their parents).
  • In Animorphs, the Skrit Na come in two forms: the Skrit, which is basically a huge and not-too-bright cockroach, and the Na, which are The Greys (and also not very bright). The Skrit is the first phase, which eventually goes into a cocoon and dies, with the Na emerging from its body. Nobody seems to know where new Skrit come from.
  • Implied in Everworld: the Coo-Hatch, a vaguely-humanoid race from another universe, are always accompanied by weird little flying insects. The human protagonists suspect that those might be young Coo-Hatch.
  • Dwarves, of all things, in A.R.R.R. Roberts' The Soddit become wizards, who in turn become dragons.
  • Fragment: The sequel, Pandemonium, reveals that many of the Hender's Island organisms are simply different morphs of the same species. For example, most of the Planimal "trees" are actually metamorphosed from the insect-like disk ants, while the huge spigers are a specialized life stage of the much smaller Hender's rats. This fact makes them even more dangerous on top of the fact all Hender's life are incredibly fast-breeding, highly adaptable, and hyper-aggressive, since it means a single organism can quickly blossom into an entire ecosystem.
  • In the SF novel The Legacy of Heorot, human colonists on a new planet find a strangely simple aquatic ecosystem with only two animal species: a kind of fish-analog which they call "samlon" and a genuinely terrifying four-legged predator they call a "grendel." Grendels will eat pretty much anything, so the colonists proceed to kill every grendel they can find on the island where they've settled. A while later, the colony's biologist compares some cell samples of samlon and grendels, and finds she can't tell the difference - because the samlon is the larval form of the grendel. Normally the adult grendels eat the oldest samlon, which are also the closest to metamorphosing into new grendels, but now the adult grendels are all dead...

    Live-Action TV 
  • The Kamen Rider franchise has several Monsters of the Week who invoke this trope. Most of them are based on insects:
    • The Shereghosts from Kamen Rider Ryuki resemble humanoid larva. They later undergo metamorphosis in a cocoon, turning them into Raydragoons, which are humanoid dragonflies. The Movie adds another transformation, looking more like an actual dragonfly, albeit mechanical.
    • The Worm from Kamen Rider Kabuto have this as their shtick. The most common variant of them is the Salisworm, which looks like a pupa with arms and legs. Some Salisworms are able to shed their skin, turning them into stronger forms that resemble humanoid arthropods. This process is known as molting.
    • The Yummy in Kamen Rider OOO look like mummies until they consumed enough of their host's greed, in which case they transform into a humanoid animal or sometimes even a giant monster.
    • The Inves from Kamen Rider Gaim really take the cake with this. They first start out as strange humanoid bug things. If they consume enough Helheim fruit or Lockseeds, they turn into a humanoid animal. If they continue to eat fruit or lockseeds, they transform into huge beasts. Later, the Inves are revealed to have been regular animals and, in some cases, even humans who were irreversibly mutated after eating Helheim's fruit, adding another layer of metamorphosis.
    • The Roidmudes in Kamen Rider Drive have one of three base forms, all of which are basically humanoid but with bat, spider, or cobra motifs and a number bolted onto their chest that acts as their only name. After copying a human with a compatible personality, the Roidmude will eventually evolve into a unique form that gets an actual name, albeit one that just describes their new design motif. Feeling their most driving emotion in a sufficient extreme can allow them to achieve Super Evolution, which turns their body gold and powers them up considerably. Roidmudes can also use Viral Cores to turn into giant animal-car hybrids, or forgo evolution in favor of modifications that give them a grim reaper aesthetic.
    • The Bugsters in Kamen Rider Ex-Aid start out as blobs of orange goo arranged into shapes resembling giant animated objects, with their human host trapped inside, before taking the forms of video game characters once separated from the host. Gamedeus does the opposite, going from a demonic humanoid form to a giant sword monster with dragons for hands after fusing with the human Big Bad.
  • Stranger Things: The Demogorgons start out as little tadpole like creatures, before growing legs and starting to look sort of salamander-ish, and then develop their signature horrifying Flower Mouth as they grow to sort of resemble a creepy hairless dog. As adults they're tall Monstrous Humanoids.
  • The Ultra Series has a metric ton of these:
    • The very first Ultraman has the monster Zaragas, whose Adaptive Ability have it morphing itself as a self-defense against the Science Patrol's weapons. For instance, shedding off it's armoured plates to grow more organic cannons on it's body, and in later instances (like in Ultraman Ginga) having the ability to grow extendable spikes underneath it's body sockets. He's even referred in-series as the "Transformation Monster".
    • The iconic Ultraseven monster, Eleking, originally assumes the form of an oversized tadpole, before growing kaiju-sized. However unlike other examples in the franchise, in it's kaiju form it doesn't morph any further, except for in video games (like in Ultraman Fighting Evolution where Eleking's kaiju form sheds it's arms, legs, it's already-long tail doubles in length and thickness and becomes an even bigger eel called EX Eleking).
    • Return of Ultraman has a caterpillar-based monster, King Maimai, whose larval stage awakens and goes on a rampage in the countryside. MAT throws every weapon they have on the creature, eventually blowing off King Maimai's arm with a hydrogen bomb, weakening the monster enough as it collapses... but it turns out, it's far from dead, it's instead shedding off it's larval form's skin, turning into its reptilian-moth hybrid adult form which Ultraman Jack have to battle.
    • Ultraman Taro have at least two. Astromons from the pilot, is originally a giant Foul Flower with bloodsucking vines, before said flower grows larger in size, sprouts arms, legs and a head, and goes on a rampage. Mushra on the other hand begins as a giant, living mushroom, albeit one without arms or legs and can only hop around; after it's destruction a single spore then finds a water source and grows into a far more threatening kaiju form.
    • UF-0 from Ultraman: Towards the Future, a half-organic, half-mechanical spaceship who starts off as a harmless-looking Flying Saucer. But after absorbing a rogue scientist who leads an Apocalypse Cult, UF-0 suddenly becomes semi-organic, growing crab-like pincers and a tail as well as giant eyes, before flying around and going on a rampage near the Australian coast.
    • The Starter Villain from Ultraman Dyna, Darrambia, actually displays the ability to metamoprh itself twice in the series. In the pilot, it initially appears as a spider-like kaiju rampaging on TPC's Mars base, until it gets swiftly destroyed by Ultraman Dyna... only for it's body chunks to reassemble into another bipedal kaiju who puts up a far better fight. And because Starter Villain Stays, Darrambia actually returns near the end of the series as Neo Darrambia, having assumed a third and far more powerful form.
      • From the same series, the later monster Geomos begins as a monster created by assimilating rocks into it's body, turning into a Rock Monster with it's head in it's torso. It then goes into hibernation before re-emerging like a butterfly's cocoon, discarding it's old body in favour of a new, dinosaur-like form.
    • Ultraman Gaia has a trio of mechanical kaiju called the Nature Control Machines, two of them - Enzan and Shinryoku - which displays morphing abilities, firstly as a giant bell-shaped structure, and then taking on a defensive stance when it's exposed by XIG and attacked by their weapons, before assuming a kaiju form to fight Ultraman Gaia.
    • Taken to the extreme in Ultraman Max with IF, an immortal version of this trope. It starts off as an egg, which is harmless but gets in the way of a construction project, so DASH decides to blow it up with missiles... only for IF to grow organic missile cannons and fires back. DASH brings out bigger weapons, and IF then grows legs and predictably goes on a rampage. Ultraman Max comes to deal with it, killing IF's kaiju form via his Galaxy Sword... and the monster then turns into an even bigger behemoth capable of firing it's own version of the Galaxy Sword. This seemingly immortal behemoth was ultimately defeated at the end of the episode... not by weaponry, or Max, but by a little girl playing her piccolo, causing the monster to grow organic, musical-playing instruments instead becoming a living orchestra which Ultraman Max then lifts into outer space, where it can harmlessly play music for the rest of it's existance.
    • Ultraman Mebius does this with Dinozaur, a space... erm, dinosaur kaiju, one which is a unique species having large nerve clusters in both its tails. When GUYS managed to defeat it by blowing off its cranium, Dinozaur then falls dead... only for the nerves to revive it as the monster flips over, it's tails turning into two heads, as a multi-headed Dinozaur Reverse.
    • Greeza, the Big Bad of Ultraman X whose initial form is a giant egg floating across the galaxy, morphing into a kaiju-sized humanoid form by absorbing Spark Dolls. It's humanoid form is difficult enough to battle (Ultraman X managed to defeat it, at the cost of his own life until XIO figured a way to revive him) but Greeza somehow resurrects itself, metamorphing into a spike-covered tertiary form that towers over Ultraman X.
    • Ultraman Orb continues the trend with the Great King Demon Beast, Maga-Orochi, which Ultraman Orb defeats only to come back later as Magata no Orochi, as it's life energy entered the ground upon death and it was merely incubating beneath the city.
    • Ultraman Trigger: New Generation Tiga has the monster Metsu-Orga who begins as an egg, awakened during Ultraman Trigger's battle against Trigger Dark, which then hatches into a dinosaur-looking kaiju. After consuming enough energy, though, it then turnsd into a new form called Metsu-Orochi, bursting out of it's previous form's back.

    Multiple Media 
  • Godzilla:
    • Hedorah in Godzilla vs. Hedorah. As seen by the image above, he’s actually one of the more grounded examples, since the first few of his forms start off very tadpole-like, then get progressively larger. His Perfect Form is a bit different, being a towering bipedal behemoth, but he retains most of the features of his previous forms, such as large, red eyes and dark green ‘skin’.
    • Likewise, there's Destoroyah who went from a colony of microscopic crab-things to a giant scorpion-crab thing to a giant demonic crab colossus. The reference books explain this final form as being the result of Destoroyah taking some of Godzilla Junior’s DNA during their fight towards the end of the film’s second act, allowing him to grow an endoskeleton, which in turn enabled him to take an upright body plan and grow much larger.
    • Mothra and Battra, naturally. Both are giant caterpillars who then become giant butterflies.
    • Godzilla vs. Biollante has the titular Biollante as another example, going from a giant rose to a bizarre crocodile-Godzilla-rose-tree-thing.
    • And then there's the mutant clone Spacegodzilla who can switch between his "normal" Godzilla form and his crystal form for long distance travel, in which his legs and tail are completely covered by a huge crystal that connects with his crystal spires on his shoulders.
    • Godzilla himself "evolves" over several forms in Shin Godzilla and Godzilla: Singular Point.

     Video Games 
  • Quite a few Pokémon have a variant of this with their evolution. The most obvious example is Magikarp to Gyarados (Small carp to giant sea serpent), but there are others, such as Trapinch to Flygon (Ant lion larva to adult to dragon) and Feebas to Milotic (fish to elegant-looking sea serpent), or the bizarre Remoraid to Octillery (remora to octopus).
    • Bizarre, but explanatory: Remoraid (pistol) to Octillery (cannon)
    • And, of course, most of the bug pokemon.
  • Metroid:
    • According to Metroid II: Return of Samus, the eponymous Metroids, at least on their homeworld of SR 388, go from floating parasitic jellyfish to beetle-like creatures to giant armored lizards. In an interesting twist, the first stage is not only the most well-known and arguably most dangerous, but while nearly every game has a variant of the jellyfish stage, the later stages have only appeared in a handful of games, such as Metroid: Samus Returns.
    • Metroid Prime Trilogy: Apparently their larval stage can become mutated in various ways from the chemicals and radiation in its surroundings. Hunter Metroids found in the Phendrana Drifts have grown a long tentacle. Beta radiation causes a metroid to divide into two. Metroids exposed to phazon start as normal larval Metroids before becoming Phazon Metroids that possess Intangible Man abilities but look almost otherwise the same, then become the Phazon crystal-covered and fully ground-based Hopping Metroids, then regain flight and gain even more Phazon armor and tentacles as a Metroid Hatcher that looks like a floating armored squid. Finally, it's heavily hinted that the titular Metroid Prime is in fact the final stage of this line of Phazon-infected Metroids.
    • Also, according to Metroid: Other M, Ridley's larva form is a small rabbit-bird-thingy, which then becomes a feathered lizard kind of creature before finally evolving into the space dragon we all know and love.
  • Varkids from Borderlands 2 Spawn as larvae from nests. They accelerate their life cycle in response to trauma (damage). The cocoon stage in between metamorphs is extremely vulnerable.
  • Resident Evil:
  • The Fodder from Dead Space 3 spawns Combat Tentacles from its waist when dismembered enough. If it's arms get removed, it replaces its torso with three whips. If it loses its legs, it gets a Spike Shooter for each one. Removing one arm and one leg usually kills it outright.
  • The Monsters from Evolve all have this as their shtick; they grow stronger by consuming animals, also becoming larger and spiky with each progression. They start out weaker than the human hunters out to kill them in the first stage, are roughly equal in strength during the second stage, and exceed them in the third and final stage.
  • The Zerg from StarCraft are spawned as catterpillar-like Larvae. They can then mutate into several different kinds of monster, themselves sometimes able to become something worse. And they evolve on a personal level, with successful mutations applied to the baseline.
  • In Fe, the young Lizard Folk that the eponymous protagonist befriends early in the game look and behave dramatically different from their adult counterparts encountered later on, which take the form of large frilled snakes with manes and antlers, basically serpentine dragons or wyrms. Taken a step further with their overlord, who is a mountain-sized sea serpent. The protagonist's species also qualify, resembling hedgehog-flying squirrel hybrids as juveniles, but maturing into anthropomorphic foxes.
  • The Alien Death Slug from The Visitor starts out as a fat little pink worm, but it absorbs DNA from everything it kills, causing it to grow bigger and develop a new organ based off of what its eaten. For example, eating a frog grants it a grabbing tongue, and eating a spider allows it to project webbing.

     Webcomics 
  • In Sluggy Freelance Aylee has gone through this over a dozen times, eventually turning into a fifty foot tall dragon and finally into the most dangerous creature of all ... a woman!
  • Starslip features the Jinxlets. Adorable little bug creatures that gain nourishment from cuddling. When fed Royal Jelly, however, they turn into terrifying berserker engines of destruction.
  • The "Jayslob" from Awful Hospital constantly mutates throughout Fern's battle with it, and as the name suggests, it Was Once a Man (a very cranky man named Jay). We get to see it metamorphosize in real-time, thanks to Bogleech's love of Body Horror.

     Web Original 
  • The Ornimorphs from Serina are a species of highly-derived avians whose life cycle simulates the entire evolutionary history of life on earth. They hatch from eggs laid in water into a swimming tadpole-like form, and gradually grow into amphibian-like, reptile-like, and dinosaur-like juvenile forms before becoming arboreal gliders that eventually take to the sky as adults. The adult form, spending its entire life on the wing, lays its eggs by skimming over bodies of water to start the cycle anew.

     Western Animation 
  • A Space Ghost episode had Jan and Jayce adopt a cute lil' creature called a star fly, unaware that it was the larval form of a giant glowing Kaiju called a star beast. It grows up fast and seems threatening, but in the end, it remembers Jan and Jayce and refuses to hurt them.
  • Played With in Steven Universe, as Rose Quartz mentions that she was surprised to realize that children and adult humans were even the same species. Her species are Born as an Adult, so it never even occurred to her that something could change so much over its life cycle.
  • In Futurama, the crew discover a mysterious but delicious food that looks exactly like popcorn shrimp, just filling up holes on another planet. They sell it on Earth and it becomes hugely popular...which is bad, because it turns out those are baby Omicronians, and the parents are naturally miffed at the Earthicans for eating their children.
  • Batman: The Animated Series: Poison Ivy once made a series of plant-human hybrids that began their life as a plant before taking on a human appearance, quickly aging from child to adult, and then transforming into a humanoid plant before they died. She used the monstrous form to commit robberies and the human form to act as her family (husband and stepsons at the various age points) to provide the illusion she'd reformed.
  • The Adventures of Jimmy Neutron, Boy Genius: In the episode "Attack of the Twonkies", the titular creatures are ridiculously cute puffball aliens that change into scaly reptilian beasts when exposed to good music, and then physically merge into a huge monster if enough of them gather in one place!

    Real Life 
  • There are tons of critters with weird life cycles. Insects, for example, lay eggs that hatch into worm-like larvae, who gorge themselves until they can spin a cocoon around themselves. That itself hatches into a mature adult. There may also be sub-stages of larval development, called instars.
    • The other method is Nymphs, which are flightless, usually aquatic mini-versions of an insect that eventually grow wings and air-breathing structures.
  • Barnacles start out as swimming shrimplike larvae, but at some point they fix themselves to one spot and never move again, maturing into a sessile adult. In some parasitic species they even lose all semblance to an animal in their final form, looking more like a cancerous mass of undifferentiated tissues.
  • Similarly, frogs start out as fish-like tadpoles. Eventually, they grow into four-legged amphibians.
  • Some newts have a three-stage life cycle: a tadpole-like larva, an intermediate land-dwelling stage called an eft, and an adult stage that returns to being aquatic.
  • Plants can have a "haplodiplontic" life cycle, which is kind of like "seeds that spread spores by fertilizing themselves, and can also clone more haploids".

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