Imperial moth (Eacles imperialis) development from egg to pupa, showing all the different instars

An instar (i/ˈɪnstɑːr/, from the Latin "form", "likeness") is a developmental stage of arthropods, such as insects, between each moult (ecdysis), until sexual maturity is reached.[1] 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, or changes in the number of body segments. After moulting, i.e. shedding their exoskeleton, the juvenile arthropods continue in their life cycle until they either pupate or moult again. This period of growth, instar, is fixed. Some arthropods can continue to moult after sexual maturity, but the stages between these subsequent moults are generally not called instars.

For most insect species, the term instar is used to denote the developmental stage of the larval or nymphal forms of holometabolous (complete metamorphism) or hemimetabolous (incomplete metamorphism) insects, but the term can be used to describe any developmental stage including pupa or imago (the adult, which does not moult in insects).

Two instars of a caterpillar of Papilio polytes

The number of instars an insect undergoes depends on the species and the environmental conditions. Lower temperatures and humidity often slow the rate of development.


  1. Allaby, Michael: A Dictionary of Ecology, page 234. Oxford University Press, USA, 2006.
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