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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.


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 an humanoid android. 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.

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     Film  

  • 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.
  • Gremlins: The Mogwai multiply if gotten wet, and transform if fed after midnight.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • The Graboids of Tremors go through a multi-stage "alternation of generations" metamorphosis similar to the aformentioned 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.

     Literature  

  • 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.

     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.

     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, while on their home planet at least, go from floating parasitic jellyfish to beetlelike 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 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. Exposing one to Phazon on planet Tallon IV causes it to grow long tentacles, and beta radiation will make it divide into two. They can only complete their normal life cycle on planet SR-388.
    • The Prime Trilogy introduces a whole new line thanks to Phazon exposure. They 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 l'il 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.

     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 lungs.
  • Similarly, frogs start out as fish-like tadpoles. Eventually, they grow into four-legged amphibians.
  • 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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