Butterfly and Moth Differences

What are the differences between a butterfly and a moth?  Most people could probably guess if an insect is a butterfly or moth when looking at it, but would have a harder time explaining the differences between the two without looking at them.

butterfly vs. moth

Numbers of Butterflies and Moths

Moths outnumber butterflies by nearly 6 to 1 – worldwide there are about 160,000 species of moths versus only around 25,000 species of butterflies.  In the United States and Canada there are more than 11,000 different kinds of moths versus only 750 butterflies!

Butterfly and Moth Similarities

Both moths and butterflies belong to the same scientific order – Lepidoptera.  If you remember from the classification system of life, order is above family, genus, and species.  This indicates that they are very similar.  Yet, they differ enough that they are in different families.

Butterflies and moths are both winged insects that undergo metamorphosis from a caterpillar form into their adult from.

FUN FACT – Most butterflies do not live very long, about 2 to 14 days. The longest living one is the mourning cloak, which can live for almost one year.

Butterfly and Moth Differences

Moths and butterflies are similar, but there are ways to tell them apart. In general, moths are not as colorful as butterflies and they are active at night.

There are always exceptions to the rule, but in general these are the best and easiest ways to tell moths and butterflies apart:

butterfly vs. moth

A butterfly body is usually thin and smooth. Photo John Flannery, Flickr.

Body (the part between the wings): A butterfly body is usually thin and smooth, while a moth body tends to be thick and fuzzy.

moth vs. butterfly

A moth at rest with its wings open. Photo Jeffrey Rowland. Flickr.

Wings at rest: When resting a butterfly holds its wings up, while a moth holds its wings flat.

butterfly vs. moth

Notice what look like balls on the end of butterfly antennas. Photo Kasia, Flickr.

butterfly vs. moth

Moth antenna. Photo Ettore Balocchi, Flickr.

Antennae: Butterfly antennae are straight and sticklike with a thickened clublike end. Moth antennae can take all kinds of shapes, but most taper to a pointed tip and look like feathers.

When are they active – Moths are nocturnal, meaning they are active at night, and butterflies are diurnal (daytime).

Pupal stage – Moths make cocoons that are wrapped in silk coverings, but butterflies make chrysalises, which are hard, smooth, and have no silk.