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Interesting Facts and Differences Between Butterflies and Moths

May 10, 2018

Butterflies and moths always confuse us, and it is tough to differentiate the two even if we compare butterfly vs moth in front of each other. Many of the things in their bodies are same in appearance, and therefore they look same. The most common thing in both of these is the scales on their body and the wings. According to researchers, the scales on the body of butterfly and moths are actually hairs in a modified version. Both butterflies and moths belong to same order which is Lepidoptera which is a Greek word and meaning is scales on wings. But as the scales lie on the body of both butterfly and moth, it is not a way to differentiate the two. Even the life cycle of butterflies and moths is same, and there is very little difference in that. Here are some things that can help you know the difference between a butterfly and moth so that next time you see any of these, you can apparently find the right name.

Wings of butterflies vs moths

The very first thing to distinguish is wings. There is some difference between their wings, and that can help you differentiate the two. Well, butterflies have fewer hairs in comparison to moth, and the patterns are the modified version of these hairs only. The difference between the number of hairs also leads to the difference between their patterns on wings.

Butterflies are usually larger in size than moths, and another different thing is the colour of patterns. Patterns on the wings of the butterfly are more colourful and larger than that of moths. Also, not only the size of moth is smaller, but the patterns on their wings are mostly drab coloured.

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The style of folding their wings make them different in some ways. In case of butterflies, they fold their wings over their back in a vertically upward direction. Moths fold their wings in a different fashion in order to hide their abdomen forming a tent-like shape with their wings.


The frenulum is a wing coupling device, and only moths have this device, and it is not found in butterflies. During the fight, moths make us of frenulum to join their forewing to their hind wing, so that the wings can work in unison and the fight can be made more effective. Butterflies do not have anything like frenulum, and so, they can't join their wings like moths. But this is not a difference that you can easily find in moths and butterflies because you can rarely see them fighting.


Behaviour difference is a fascinating thing you can find about moths and butterflies, and you can easily relate to this with your experiences if you can distinguish between the two in your real life. There are two types of behaviour generally seen- diurnal are the ones that fly in the night and nocturnal that fly in the night. Most of the butterflies fly in the daytime, and that's why they are diurnal, but some of them fly in the night too. In case of moths as contrary to butterflies most of them are nocturnal, and they fly at the night time, but some exceptions also fly in the daytime. So, if you see some colourful butterfly like structure flying in the daytime, then it must be a butterfly for sure, and something boring and dull under the streetlight must be a moth. Urania leilus from Peru is a moth that flies in the daytime and looks like a butterfly, and this is what makes the differences between these two species blurred.

Chrysalis vs Cocoons or Butterfly vs moths

The lifecycle of butterflies and moths also put a difference in these two very similar species. An intermediate stage between larva and adult is pupa. It is the growth process of both butterfly and moth, and the difference here is between the protective covering of the two. Both chrysalides and cocoons are coverings to protect pupa, and the difference is that butterflies are known to make chrysalides and moths are on the other hand known to make cocoons. Cocoon is smooth, and it is covered in a silk covering while chrysalis is hard but smooth and it doesn't need any silk covering.

As soon as researchers are expanding their research in different places, the difference line between the species is becoming even more unclear. There are many moths out in several places that have all the properties of butterflies including clubbed antennae, bright colours, and the daytime flying is most common. Some butterflies do behave life moths, but here the number is quite low. The comparison of butterflies vs moths thus don’t have clear definition or boundaries to make everyone understand. Only the basic generalised thing that we are keeping in mind for years can help us differentiate most of the species which is bright colours of butterflies and boring colours of moths.

Facts about butterflies and moths

Even if we can't differentiate between the two species we can always learn some interesting things to feed our knowledge zone. There are some facts that more interesting than butterflies vs moths line up. Below are some really knowledgeable and fun facts about the species.

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  • It is believed about a butterfly that if you touch the wings of a butterfly and the powder on the wings rubs off with your touch the butterfly will not be able to fly anymore. But it is just a myth because buttery use to shed these scales in the form of powder, a number of times throughout the lifetime. It can be any granny’s words just to prevent the butterflies from kids torture that might take up their life sometime.
  • Even if we love to see butterflies more than moths, we can't deny the fact that the number of species of moths is very large than that if butterflies. Skippers that have hooked shaped antennae and butterflies together just make 6-11% of total Lepidoptera while moths make far more ratio than this. Approximately 89-94% of the total is of moths. Now, our elders were always right when they stopped us from torturing the butterflies because if they didn't do so, we could have destroyed these little species.
  • Birdwings are known as the largest butterflies in the world with extremely large wings. The size of wings of Queen Alexandra birdwings is 11 inches. It is found in the rainforests of Papua New Guinea, and it is the rarest butterfly too. Another name from the same place is Goliath birding which is also the largest butterfly with a wingspan of 11 inches and is also rare to find.
  • Western pygmy blue is the smallest butterfly in the world, and it is found in North America and Africa. The blues are known as the smallest butterflies because if there very small wingspan which is only ¹¼-½ inches for these butterflies.
  • The cabbage white butterfly is the most common butterfly in the world. It is found in New Zealand, Bermuda, Asia, Hawai, Africa, North America, Europe, and Australia.
  • As like other birds, butterflies too migrate. Monarch butterflies migrate from cold to warmer places, and the interesting thing here is that they are the only insects that fly at this high speed of 2500 miles on an average to find the suitable warmer climates. The painted lady, American lady, Red admiral, cloudless sulphur, skipper sachem, and many more butterflies are there that migrate.
  • The lifecycle of a butterfly starts as an egg that is laid on a leaf, and after that, the caterpillar from the larva hatches from egg to eat flowers and leaves. As long as it grows, it loses the skin many times, and growing prices is really fast. The final stage is pupa which eventually turns into the beautiful butterfly that you love to see, catch, and play with.
  • The butterflies flit and flutter in their most beautiful costumes all over the world of insects. They are called as the dancers of the category of insects because of these fun activities.
  • You would have often seen butterflies trembling, do you know why they do so? They need a temperature of at least 86 Fahrenheit to fly, and they shake their body to warm themselves to fly.
  • Can you think of any place without butterflies? Yes, the number of butterflies that we used to do a few years ago was more than we see today but they do exist everywhere today too, right? No, there is a place that is free from butterflies from the time you started playing with these beautiful insects. The only continent with no butterfly in the is Antarctica.
  • Will you mind the moths eating your clothes? Some moth caterpillars are known to eat natural fibres, and thus they are eventually eating clothes. After they become adults, most of the moths do not eat anything because they do not have mouths and the ones that eat only drink the nectar of flowers. The moths that do not have a mouth must store the energy when they are caterpillars to survive in their adult days because when there is no mouth, there are no meals.
  • Usually, butterflies have a short lifespan, but Brimstone butterfly has a lifespan of nearly 9-10 months. It is the butterfly with the largest lifespan of all butterflies.
  • Some female moths do not have any wings on their body and crawling is just to get around. They could be said as the ones with worst luck, because there are no wings at all.
  • A moth names Morgan’s Sphinx is found in Madagascar with the biggest proboscis which is the tube-like mouth of moths. The proboscis is 12 to 14 inches in length and has the ability reach to the sweet nectar of the orchid plant. It can be said the luckiest moths of all because it is the only one that could taste the sweet nectar of the orchid plant. Well, the longer tube mouth is a blessing for this moth. Do moths also irritate their fellows with something they have like we do? If so, this one has the biggest opportunity.
  • Can you imagine having your skeleton outside of your body? Well, you can't have that. But butterflies and other insects have their complete skeleton outside of their body so that they can store water inside their body. There are two reasons behind this structure; the first one is more water is needed to store to prevent dryness, and the other thing is the skeleton outside their body protect them.
  • Monarchs eat poisonous plants when they are caterpillars, and they become poisonous butterflies as adults. They are harmful to birds when they are an adult.
  • The smallest member of Lepidoptera family belongs to moths and the name of that moth is Nepticulidae with an exceptionally small wingspan. The wingspan of this moth is just 2mm and you can think that their caterpillars are even hard to see and I think even these moths are hard to see because of such small wingspan.
  • Can you think of mutualism been existing in moths? Yes, it does exist between a special type of plant and moth. The plant names Yucca and the moth with the same name are totally dependent upon each other for their existence. Well, a perfect relationship doesn't exist but we can think of their relationship as perfect, as perfect as their names.

These are not all facts about moths, many more do exist, but you can say these are the most interesting ones. There is no limit to knowledge, and here also you can find a lot of more facts. Both the butterflies and moths are present in a large number of species and scientists are finding more regularly. Well, after reading the article, you won’t say moths are boring because now you know that colourful moths do exist and they are as beautiful as butterflies are.

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