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

An instar (/ˈɪnstɑːr/ (About this sound listen), 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, changes in the number of body segments or head width. After moulting, i.e. shedding their exoskeleton, the juvenile arthropods continue in their life cycle until they either pupate or moult again. The instar period of growth is fixed; however, in some insects, like the salvinia stem-borer moth, the number of instars depends on early larval nutrition.[2] 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, an instar is the developmental stage of the larval forms of holometabolous (complete metamorphism) or nymphal forms of hemimetabolous (incomplete metamorphism) insects, but an instar can be 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 lower humidity often slow the rate of development- an example is seen in the tobacco budworm.[3]


  1. ^ Allaby, Michael: A Dictionary of Ecology, page 234. Oxford University Press, USA, 2006.
  2. ^ "Life History and Entomology of Samea multiplicalis".
  3. ^ "tobacco budworm - Heliothis virescens (Fabricius)". Retrieved 2017-11-09.