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Butterflies and Moths – Their Differences

They flit around our gardens. They have six legs, scaly wings, an exoskeleton segmented into three parts and an antenna. Is this a butterfly? Or a moth?

Difficult, isn’t it? That’s because both come from the insect order of Lepidoptera. The order is one of the largest with the second most number of insect species. Telling those two apart can be a real pain. There are exceptions, which make the rules unclear. But generally, the butterflies and moths can be distinguished if you look at the details.


Let’s start with their heads. Both sport antennas. But if you look closely, you’ll find that the butterfly has an antenna that is straight and ends with a little knob. Moths have feathery antennas. However, as said before, there are exceptions. Castniidae moths have antennas that end in a knob for example.


The body of a butterfly is different from a moth’s. Like the antenna, the moth’s body is also a bit feathery or furry. You can easily notice short hairs along the body. The butterfly’s body is smooth. Nothing covers the exoskeleton.


Butterflies are diurnal, meaning they are active during the day. Moths generally avoid the day. They are nocturnal. However, tiger moths can sometimes be found active during the day.


Butterflies wear a gamut of colors. These are bright and attract lots of attention. Moth wings tend to dull and brown colors. Some moths do sport colorful wings, however, while some butterflies have plain wings.

Wings at Rest

When a moth is sleeping or resting, its wings are held flat or folded over its back. It looks like it is wearing a cape. Butterflies hold their wings vertically and erect.


Both species begin as a caterpillar, which spins a cocoon when it’s time to turn into their respective final stages. Butterfly cocoons are called chrysalis. It is usually harder than a cocoon and hangs from a branch. Moth cocoons are not as tough and they are usually placed near the ground, on the ground or underground in order to help protect itself.


Butterflies feed on nectar. Sometimes they drink the fluid from rotting fruits and other carcasses. Moths also feed on nectar but many species also feed on natural fibers like cotton or wool. In other words, they can munch on clothes. They also have a habit of breaking into silos and other food storage areas and eat as much as they want. Many consider moths as pests because of this.