Although both of these life cycles actually are both complete by definition because both cycles result in the adult insect, they are very different. The complete life cycle for example is egg, larvae, pupae, adult, the incomplete life cycle is egg, nymph, adult. Both of these life cycles go through molts or shedding of their exoskeleton in between every stage of development.
The differences in the two start with the appearance of newly hatched larvae or nymphs, larvae are worm like and look completely different from their mother, nymphs hatch as miniature versions of the adult females. Larvae in complete life cycles go through a period where they pupate, this process is in complete seclusion and the larvae changes into the adult. Nymphs in the incomplete life cycle go through periods called instars in between every stage of development, they do not pupate but do require food and/or water sources to advance to their next stage in life.
An example of an insect that goes through the incomplete life cycle is the Bed Bug. Bed Bug nymphs hatch as mini adult Bed Bugs, they require a blood meal immediately after emerging from their egg! This blood meal is the only source of nutrition this Bed Bug will ever need it’s entire life and is required in between molts in order for the Bed Bug to advance to the next stage in life. Bed Bugs in each instar can survive different lengths of time without blood, some over a year!
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