Butterflies vs moths, these are two of the most fascinating and visually appealing insects in the world. With their vibrant colors and delicate wings, these creatures have captured the imagination of humans for centuries. While both belong to the order Lepidoptera and share many similarities in terms of appearance and behavior, there are also significant differences between the two.
In this article, we will explore the similarities and differences between butterflies and moths and delve into the unique characteristics that make each of them so special. Whether you’re a nature lover or simply curious about the world around you, this article will provide you with a wealth of information on these enchanting creatures.
Butterflies vs Moths: 8 Differences
1. There General Appearance
Butterflies tend to have smoother, leaner and an elegant appearance and they have smaller scales. Moths have furry and stocky bodies, they have a unique stature that is extremely distinctive when they are not in motion.
In general, a moth is likely to have a less vibrant and duller color palette when compared to most butterflies. The patterns are not as striking, they lack the intricacy that can be observed on the wings of a butterfly. But, there are exceptions to this rule, the Madagascan Sunset Moth has colorful wings that are extremely impressive.
3. Diurnal and Nocturnal
A butterfly is active during the day (diurnal) and a moth will be more active at night (nocturnal).
Because butterflies are diurnal and moths are nocturnal it should come as no surprise that these species have very different eyes that are adapted to match the lighting conditions. Butterflies have appositional eyes which gather multiple images that are combined together in the brain.
Moths have superposition eyes which reflect the light at the same angle that it’s observed to create images that are 1,000 times brighter than our eyes. The image quality is sacrificed, but the brightness allows the moth to observe their world as if it was day when it’s night.
5. Resting Wings
Some butterflies extend their wings fully to “sun bake” them and most rest with their wings closed. Moths always rest with their wings fully extended and this is one of the easiest ways to tell them apart.
6. The Antennae Shape
Butterflies and moths have different antennae shapes. The antennae of butterflies are longer and bare, they have a bulb at the end and they project from the head with a club shape. Moth antennae have a feather or leaf shape they tend to be slender and they may be straight or curved depending on the species.
During the metamorphosis from a caterpillar to a butterfly, a pupa made of hardened protein is spun. Moths have a more delicate cocoon which is a pupa spun from silk. But, there are exceptions, the Parnassius Butterfly forms a cocoon and a Gypsy Moth creates a pupae similar to a butterfly.
A frenulum is a wing coupling that keeps the wings of a moth moving together as it flies. Upon closer inspection it’s easy to see that a butterfly doesn’t have a frenulum.
Butterflies vs Moths: Similarities
Despite the aforementioned differences, there are a number of similarities between butterflies vs moths because they both belong to the Lepidoptera insect group. Both have the same four stage life cycle with some minor differences:
Stage 1: The Egg
Both species lay eggs on their preferred plants, during this embryonic stage the new caterpillar develops and the plant provides a ready supply of food.
The eggs can be laid from spring up to fall depending on the specific species. Many eggs are laid to ensure that some survive predation and other hazards. Butterfly eggs tend to be smaller, but some species can lay larger eggs.
Stage 2: Larvae
The butterfly eggs hatch as caterpillars and moths are larvae. There are minor differences at this stage, but they both consume the egg shell and then plant matter to grow.
This feeding stage is vital, the larvae will consume large quantities of food and they will shed their skin multiple times to accommodate the growth. During this stage, it’s not unusual for larvae to grow up to 100 times in size from the initial egg.
Stage 3: Pupa
This is the most interesting transition stage, the fully grown larva reaches full size and it stops eating. The moth larvae becomes a pupa and the butterfly pupa is usually known as the chrysalis. Depending on the specific species this pupal stage can last from a few weeks up to a month and some species have a two year pupal stage!
Although the surface of the pupa seems calm there is a lot of rapid growth occurring inside as the larvae cells provide the energy for the transition. The body, legs, eyes, wings and other recognizable parts of an adult moth or butterfly are grown. As the adult stage approaches there will be more activity on the pupal surface as the new moth or butterfly prepares to emerge.
Stage 4: Adult
When most people consider butterflies or moths this is the stage that they tend to recognize. The adult will emerge from the pupa, this is a difficult process and they need to rest after this process is completed. The wings are dried to prepare for the first short flight and the adult features are clearly visible.
At this point, the growth stops, the adult will never grow in size and they are prepared to feed, mate and the females can lay eggs. Butterflies feed on nectar to sustain themselves during this stage. Moths also eat nectar, but they also devour other materials, such as: bird droppings, rotting fruit, animal dung, silk, felt, fur, pet fur, wool and more.
The lifespan of a moth or butterfly can vary from a couple of weeks up to several months depending on the species.
How Do You Tell The Difference Between A Moth And A Butterfly Caterpillar?
There are four easy ways to differentiate between a moth and butterfly, to summarize:
- Moths have a feathered or fuzzy antennae and butterflies tend to have club shaped antennae.
- Moths rest with their wings spread flat and butterflies tend to rest with their wings pointed upright. But, certain butterfly species do extend their wings in direct sunlight.
- Butterflies are active during the day and moths at night.
- Moths tend to have duller coloration than butterflied but there are some stunning exceptions.
Butterflies vs Moths: FAQ’s
Are butterflies attracted to light like moths?
Yes, butterflies like moths have phototaxis which is an instinct to fly towards light sources. But, because they are active during the day this trait is less noticeable in a butterfly when it’s compared to a moth.
Does a moth turn into a butterfly?
No, they are separate and distinct, but butterflies are believed to have evolved from moths that may have been diurnal at some stage in the distant past. The appearance of butterflies may be linked to the evolution of more flowering plants.
What do moths turn into?
An adult moth is also known as an imago, it’s a fully formed adult and it will not turn into anything else.
Conclusion: Butterflies vs Moths
We hope that we’ve shed some light on the butterflies vs moths similarities and differences. As you can see, they have a lot in common, but they are distinct species that are easy to tell apart if you know what to look for.