Butterflies and moths are both lovely, delicate creatures. Colorful, yet many of them having quite advanced camouflage abilities, these two insects can appear very much the same. So how do you tell the difference between a butterfly and a moth?
Nocturnal or diurnal?
One of the chief differences between butterflies and moths is at what time of the day you see them. There are some moths that are active during the day, especially in the jungle; however, most are nocturnal. Chances are if you’re seeing one of these insects in broad daylight, it will be a butterfly.
What do the wings look like?
Most moths, although beautiful, have a more subtle tone and color to their wings. Even though there are four times as many moth species as butterflies around the world, you probably notice them less. The scales on their wings are thicker and generally quite a bit duller in color.
A butterfly usually has wings that are thin or almost translucent with bright patterns and glowing colors. In cold climates, there exist some species that may resemble moths in color and wing thickness, but still they can be picked from moths by the time of day that you’re viewing them.
What do the antennae look like?
A third primary way to differentiate between moth and butterfly is by observing the “feelers” — the antennae. These are used in both butterfly and moth to locate other insects of the same species and to find flowers, too.
A moth has shorter, wider feathery antennae, the male moth antennae especially appearing more feathery, as they employ them to locate females.
Butterflies have thinner, longer antennae which are knobbed at the ends.
Where do you find them?
Most butterflies and moths seek different kinds of flowers, because moths require a stronger scent to be able to find their target during the night. The flowers moths find will also be lighter in color for higher visibility. Often the moth flowers will be drooping for easier access. Every once in awhile, a moth with an exceptionally long proboscis will be found to facilitate his feeding and pollinating abilities.
Collecting, photographing and observing moths and butterflies can be one of the nicest hobbies in your quest to learn about the natural world. We hope this basic guide will help you and your children when you embark on the fun adventure of categorizing butterflies and moths.
Joy of Nature, p. Reader’s Digest 1977