Question How can you tell the difference between a butterfly and a moth?
One of the easiest ways to tell the difference between a butterfly and a moth is to look at the antennae. A butterfly’s antennae are club-shaped with a long shaft and a bulb at the end. A moth’s antennae are feathery or saw-edged.
Butterflies and moths have many things in common, including scales that cover their bodies and wings. These scales are actually modified hairs. Butterflies and moths belong to the order Lepidoptera (from the Greek lepis meaning scale and pteron meaning wing).
Here are some other ways that help to identify butterflies and moths:
Butterflies tend to fold their wings vertically up over their backs. Moths tend to hold their wings in a tent-like fashion that hides the abdomen.
Butterflies are typically larger and have more colorful patterns on their wings. Moths are typically smaller with drab-colored wings.
Moths have a frenulum, which is a wing-coupling device. Butterflies do not have frenulums. Frenulums join the forewing to the hind wing, so the wings can work in unison during flight.
Butterflies are primarily diurnal, flying in the daytime. Moths are generally nocturnal, flying at night. However, there are moths that are diurnal, such as the buck moth and there are butterflies that are crepuscular, meaning they fly at dawn and dusk.
Cocoons and chrysalides are protective coverings for the pupa. The pupa is the intermediate stage between the larva and adult. A moth makes a cocoon, which is wrapped in a silk covering. A butterfly makes a chrysalis, which is hard, smooth and has no silk covering.
As scientists discover and study new species of butterflies and moths, distinctions between the two are becoming blurred. Some moths may fool you into thinking that they are butterflies such as the Urania leilus, a colorful day flying moth from Peru. The Castnioidea moths, found in the neotropics, Indonesia, and Australia exhibit many of the characteristics of butterflies such as brightly colored wings, clubbed antenna and day flying.
More fascinating facts about butterflies and moths.
- There are many more species of moths than butterflies. Butterflies and skippers (hooked-shaped antennae) make up 6 to 11 percent of Lepidoptera order, while moths make up 89-94 percent of the Lepidoptera order.
- It is not true that if you touch a butterfly’s wing and the ‘powder’ rubs off that the butterfly will not be able to fly. The powder is actually tiny scales and a butterfly sheds these ‘scales’ throughout its lifetime.
- Butterflies and moths are holometabolous meaning that they undergo a complete metamorphosis from egg to caterpillar and from chrysalis to adult.
- The largest known butterflies in the world are the birdwings. The Queen Alexandra Birdwing (Ornithoptera alexandrae) from the rain forests of Papua New Guinea has a wingspan of 11 inches. It is the most rare of all butterflies. . The Goliath birdwing (Ornithoptera goliath), also from the rain forests of Papua New Guinea, is also one of the largest butterflies with an average wingspan of 11 inches.
- The smallest known butterflies are the blues (Lycaenidae), which are found in North American and Africa. They have wingspans from 1/4 – 1/2 inches. Western Pygmy Blue is the smallest.
- The most common butterfly is the Cabbage White found in Europe, North America, Africa, Asia, Australia, New Zealand, Bermuda, and Hawaii.
- The largest known moths are the Atlas moths (Saturniidae) with wingspans as large as 12 inches.
- The smallest known moths are from the pygmy moth family (Nepticulidae) with wingspans as small as 3/32 of an inch.
Published: 11/19/2019. Author: Science Reference Section, Library of Congress