How do we tell the difference between moths and butterflies?
Even though they are related, there is a difference between moths and butterflies. Some moths are just as pretty as butterflies. In fact, some of them are quite amazing in appearance.
As a young married couple my husband and I would go to a pay phone to call the family.
(This was way before cell phones.) One evening after dark, we went to the
convenience store to make a call.
under the night lights
were a bunch of moths. I was amazed at some large black and white ones
that were stunning. At that time, I have no idea what they were
called. Later I found out they were Giant Leopard Moths.
When I started painting butterflies, I planted butterfly flowers. This enabled me to see them close-up and get photos for paintings. Then I began to wonder about the differences between a moth and butterflies.
Wouldn't this Swallow-tailed Moth make a beautiful painting?
what's the difference between moths and butterflies?
Moths and butterflies are both insects. They have three body parts consisting of
a head with two antennae, a thorax with six legs and an abdomen. That's what classifies them as insects.
Moths are the unsung members of the Lepidoptera order of insects.
about ninety percent
moths and less than ten percent butterflies.
If there are so many moths, why don't we see more? We quite often see butterflies
visiting our garden flowers.
- The main difference between moths and
butterflies is moths are mostly nocturnal.
- They work at night and rest during the day.
- Butterflies are active only
during the daytime.
- While it's light they are out flying from flower to flower.
Check it out. Go out by a street light or porch light at night. We can see all kinds of interesting moths flying
around the lights.
Sometimes we see them landing on
the exterior of our windows at night. The lights inside the
house attract them to our windows.
my early moth lessons
The Sphinx Moths is a type of Hawk Moth.
During the late 1960s organic vegetables were becoming popular. We had
friends growing organic tomatoes.
Late one afternoon when we were
visiting, they said, "It's about time to go out and get the Sphinx
We wondered - What in the world?
It was just about
dusk. We all went out with flyswatters looking for Sphinx Moths. When we
saw one flying around the tomatoes, we would give it a strong swat! That
was organic pest control.
Why did they want to get rid of the moths?
Because they lay eggs on the tomato plants. Then their eggs hatch into the
dreaded tomato hornworm.
If you have ever grown tomatoes, you know how
much damage a hungry tomato worms can do. Growing tomatoes can be is easy.
is it a moth or a butterfly?
The stunning Luna Moths are quite large.
Farther down the road my husband and I were tromping through the deep woods of Florida.
We came upon a beautiful critter hanging on the side of a tree trunk in the shade.
It was pale green with a long swallowtail.
It was fairly large. It just hung there and didn't fly away while we admired it in amazement.
We were still learning the difference between moths and butterflies. Because it was so pretty,
I thought it was a butterfly. At that time, I had no idea how to tell the difference.
When we checked with the local people, we found out it was a moth.
That makes sense now because it was resting from its night time activities.
more differences between a moth and a butterfly
There are some typical differences between the two.
- The easiest way to tell a moth is they look fuzzy.
- Another difference between a moth and butterfly is
An Emperor Moth has feathered antennae.
Butterflies and moths both have scales on their wings and bodies. The scales are actually modified hairs that are called scales.
The moth's scales stand up on their body and wings. That makes them look fuzzy or furry.
The moth's antennae are feathered or leaf-like. Whereas the antennae of butterflies are long, smooth and slender.
Generally, there is a small bulb on the end of a butterfly's slim antennae.
Besides a hairy body, moths tend to have heavier bodies. The butterfly's body is slimmer and lighter weight.
Consequently, moths will fly slower than butterflies.
watch the moth or butterfly
when they land
Moths land and sit down to rest with their wings stretched
- When butterflies land, they hold their wings folded up above their
A Willowherb Hawk-moth resting with its wings out.
Notice the moth looks hairy compared to the butterfly's lightweight, smooth body.
A Malachite Butterfly landed with its wings up.
Also, there is an enlargement on the end of the butterfly's long, slim antennae.
another difference between moths and butterflies
Moths and butterflies are colored differently.
- Butterflies tend to have brighter colors.
- Most moths are duller colored.
dull colors of moths don't attract the attention of predators during the daytime while
they are resting.
Many moths and butterflies have what
is called an eye-spot. They normally are on the outer portion of the wings.
There generally are two circles with a dark spot in the middle. The dark spot mimics the pupil of mammals.
See the eye-spot on the image of the Eyed Hawk-moth.
The eye-spot is a defense mechanism that works one of two ways.
Either the eye-spot would scare a predator away. Or a bird would peck the eye-spot instead of the actual eye.
Then the moth or
butterfly would only lose a bit of wing instead of their whole head.
Moths have a different structure from
butterflies. They have a frenulum, which is a wing-coupling device.
mechanism locks their fore-wing and hind-wing together. So, when they fly, their
wings fly in unison.
Butterflies don't have this
Both moths and butterflies go
through complete metamorphosis.
The adult female moth or butterfly lays eggs, they hatch into
larvae, called caterpillars. The caterpillars eat and gorge themselves.
This stage may be called worms, like the silkworm. They behave the same as caterpillars.
Then comes the difference between moths and butterflies.
- Moths spin a cocoon which is covered with strands of silk.
- The cocoon hatches into an
- Butterflies make a smooth shelled chrysalis, also
called a pupa.
- The chrysalis completes its metamorphosis by hatching into an adult butterfly.
Silk Moth cocoons are getting processed.
That's how the beautiful silk
clothes are made in the orient. In the orient silk moths are raised to collect their
silk to make clothing.
No wonder real silk costs so much.
wonders of nature - moths and butterflies are different