Butterflies vs. Moths

Last weekend I was asked to explain the difference between butterflies and moths. Both are insects because they have 6 true legs, and 3 body segments (head, thorax, and abdomen) and belong to the Order  Lepidoptera. Lepi is Greek for "scales" and optera means "wings"; all butterflies and moths have scaled wings. In my opinion, the designation of "Butterfly" or "Moth" is less meaningful than understanding which Family the species belongs to. The best explanation I can give to distinguish the two is that butterflies and moths form different families within Lepidoptera. In addition here are some general traits used to designate a moth versus and butterfly:
  1. Butterflies have straight and club-like antennae, moths have "plumose" or feather-like.
  2. Butterflies make a chrysalis when they pupate, moths make a silk cocoon. 
Other factors that are suggestive but have many exceptions include:
  1. Butterflies are diurnal (active during the day), moths are nocturnal (active at night).
  2. Butterflies rest with wings open, moths rest with wings closed.
  3. Butterfly always have a feeding mechanism (called a proboscis), whereas a moth may not.
Update: Below I have added a link from a post by the folks at the Tales from the Butterfly Garden blog on the same topic:


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