what is the difference between
a moth and butterfly?

Moths and butterflies are related, but there is a difference between a moth and butterfly.

Both moths and butterflies are members of the Lepidoptera order. The order is about eighty-nine percent moths and eleven percent butterflies.

Both moths and butterflies are insects with three body parts. They both have a head, a thorax and an abdomen. They have two antennae attached to their head. Six legs are attached to their thorax.

There is a distinct difference between a moth and butterfly.Swallow-tailed Moth
Image by Illuvis from Pixabay

is it a moth or butterfly?

We quite often see butterflies visiting our garden flowers. If there are so many moths, why don't we see more moths?

  • One of the main differences between moths and butterflies is moths are mostly nocturnal and butterflies are active only during the daytime.

Go out by a street light or your porch light at night and you will see all kinds of interesting moths flying around the light.

Sometimes you will see them land on the exterior of your windows when they are attracted by the light inside your house.

Then the moths rest during the day, while the butterflies are out flying from flower to flower.


the difference between a moth and butterfly

It's easy when you know how to tell the difference between a moth and butterfly.

There some distinct differences between moths and butterflies.

  • The easiest way to tell a moth is - moths look fuzzy.

Butterflies and moths both have scales on their wings and bodies. The scales are actually a modified hair that are called scales.

The moth's scales stand up on their body and wings. This makes them look fuzzy or furry.


The stunning Emperor Moth is quite large around four inchesSome moths are quite majestic - the Emperor moth
Image by Illuvis from Pixabay
  • Another difference between a moth and butterfly is their antennae.

The moth's antennae are feathered or leaf-like. Whereas the antennae of butterflies are long, smooth and slender. Generally there is a small bulb on the end of a butterfly's antennae.


Then watch the moth or butterfly when they land.

  • Moths land and sit and rest with their wings stretched out. When butterflies land they hold their wings folded up above their head. 

  • Another difference is their color.

Most moths have duller colors. Their duller colors don't attract the attention of predators during the daytime while the moths are resting.

Butterflies have brighter colors.


  • Moths in general tend to look heavier. Butterflies look slimmer and lighter weight.

Moths have different structure from butterflies. They have a frenulum, which is a wing-coupling device. This mechanism locks their fore and hind-wing together. So when they fly, their wings fly in unison.

Butterflies don't have that mechanism.


Some moths are very good at camouflage.Some moths are very good at camouflaging themselves.
Image by Illuvis from Pixabay

Many moths and butterflies have what is called an eye-spot. See the eye-spot on the Eyed-hawk Moth above.

The eye-spot is a defense mechanism. A bird would peck the eye-spot instead of the actual eye. So the moth or butterfly would only lose a bit of wing instead of their whole head.


Both moths and butterflies go through complete metamorphosis. The adult female lays eggs, they hatch into larvae, called caterpillars. The caterpillars eat and gorge themselves.

Then there is a difference between a moth and butterfly.

  • Moths spin a cocoon which is covered with silk.

That's how the beautiful silk clothes are made in the orient. They raise the silk moths and collect their silk to make clothing. No wonder real silk costs so much.

  • Butterflies make a smooth shelled chrysalis (also called a pupa) during this stage of metamorphosis.

Then the cocoon hatches into an adult moth. And the chrysalis hatches into an adult butterfly.

the wonders of nature - moths and butterflies are different


more about butterflies

  • Types of Butterflies

    Photos and information about thirty types of butterflies commonly seen in the United States will help you identify the butterfly types you see in your yard.

  • Monarch Butterfly Life Cycle

    Photos and description of Monarch Butterfly life cycle from butterfly eggs, caterpillar, pupa, chrysalis to the adult butterfly, amazing butterfly metamorphosis.

  • How long do butterflies live?

    Facts about butterflies; how long do butterflies live, what do butterflies eat, is a butterfly an insect, what do butterflies eat, what attracts butterflies?

  • Flowers for Butterflies

    Butterflies eat flower nectar. So plant some flowers for butterflies to provide butterfly food. Butterfly weed and butterfly bush are favorite butterfly flowers.




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