Moths and butterflies are both members of the Lepidoptera order of insects. There are more than 180,000 species in this category. The behavior and morphology of the butterfly and moth are distinct.
That includes the fact that moths are nocturnal, whereas butterflies are active throughout the day. There are differences between the larval and adult stages as well. In this article, we provide a detailed look at the differences between moths and butterflies.
8 Key Differences Between Moths and Butterflies
The study of molecular genetics helps scientists understand how organisms evolved and how they differ from one another. The phylogenetic tree that results demonstrates links between several species.
Moths and butterflies differ just slightly from one another genetically. Some butterflies are related to particular moths more closely than they are to other butterflies.
Given their similar life cycles and similar appearances, it might be challenging to distinguish between them. However, if you pay great attention, you can identify them. Here are eight distinctive differences that help distinguish between the moth and the butterfly.
1. Moth vs Butterfly: Behavior
Butterflies are ectotherms. They depend on the heat coming from outside sources. They use the sun to increase their body temperatures because they need to be about 85 degrees to fly.
Moths typically repose during the day in a dark, forested environment. They seek enclosed, dark spaces like cabinets and closets when indoors. Curiously, the moth needs heat, just like the butterfly, but they generate their own heat by vibrating their wings.
2. Moth vs Butterfly: Feeding
Nectar is taken from flowers by butterflies. Fruit juices and tree sap are consumed by some species. Some individuals even eat moisture found in carrion or excrement. Butterflies naturally consume pollen and other minerals, such as salt, that they obtain from muddy places and puddles.
The moth larvae consume textiles, not the moths. Fabrics are frequently consumed by the case-making clothes moth and the webbing clothes moth. They appreciate wool, silk, cotton, cashmere, and lint, as well as natural fibers found in curtains, bed sheets, upholstery, and clothing.
The majority of moths consume liquids, which they can get from a range of sources such as flower nectar, decaying fruit, bird droppings, sap, honeydew, and even animal feces.
To learn more about what moths eat, visit our What Do Moths Eat? & Why Do Moths Eat Clothes? guides!
3. Moth vs Butterfly: Flight Patterns
Butterfly bodies feature two wings on each side. The wings can independently move thanks to the infrastructure. Some species seem to be able to dart with ease, while others soar at a sluggish rate with a few flaps.
Wings of moths have scales. The scales are lifted by trapped air and they are useful for survival. Scales fall off if captured in a spider’s web. Unfortunately, a flying predator’s keen vision finds these scales to be colorful. However, the moth has evolved an unpredictable flight path that many birds cannot mimic.
Moths and butterflies use their wings slightly differently in addition to these tiny scales. Although their shapes are slightly different, both butterflies and moths have broad wings. When resting, butterflies like to keep their wings up to the sides, while moths prefer to sit with their wings horizontally.
The ‘frenulum’, a curious hook-like structure that connects the wings of moths, is another fascinating feature. It is unclear why the frenulum is absent in most butterflies, but it is supposed to help the wings behave as a single surface when the moth is flying through the air.
4. Moth vs Butterfly: Larvae Stage
The primary responsibility of the butterfly caterpillar is to continuously consume food in order to maintain a healthy growth rate. The silky cocoon can begin as little as a pinhead and grow as long as two inches. The caterpillar can molt its skin up to four times to make room for the butterfly’s development.
Primary food sources are infested by moth larvae. They choose quiet, dark places with easy access to food. For this reason, closets and upholstered furniture serve as the clothes moth’s habitat. Moths can also settle down in chimneys, wall crevices, or animal or bird nests.
5. Moth vs Butterfly: Reproduction
If the main purpose of eating during the caterpillar stage is to promote growth, the adult butterfly’s role is to mate and lay eggs. To place her eggs, the female will travel considerable distances.
A female moth may deposit one egg or several. Females frequently leave eggs in plant tissue, however, they can also stick eggs to things or simply drop them. The European bagworm is an exception to the rule that most moths pair. It reproduces through parthenogenesis.
6. Moth vs Butterfly: Wing Coloration
Of course, butterflies are well known for the vivid and distinctive designs on their brightly colored wings. But there are certain exceptions, like the baron or the cabbage white butterflies. These two insects don’t have the vibrant array of hues that butterfly wings typically exhibit.
The dull, dusty moth wings are not as interesting as the vibrant markings on butterflies. There are, of course, always exceptions, such as a Luna moth with its peculiar green wings.
The nocturnal moth is more recognizable for having a flat, bland hue. They frequently have zigzag or swirly patterns that hide them from predators. However, some species have amazing colors. Unfortunately, these exclusions might also be harmful.
The arrangement of these microscopic scales, some with pigment and others without, results in the variation in color. While both have wings constructed of layers of proteins, many butterflies have scales that are colored or have special methods to reflect light to produce patterns.
7. Moth vs Butterfly: Structure of Antenna
The butterfly antennae are typically long, thin, filamentous, and club-shaped. These sensory appendages, which are segmented organs, are employed for balance and smell. The butterflies antennae are short and clubbed at the tip, resembling the flat side of a kirby grip.
In addition to having sensors that aid in smell, butterflies also have antennae that are used to determine when it is time to prepare for a trip. This club assists butterflies in measuring the air’s temperature so they can determine when to travel to warmer regions or enter a period of diapause, or butterfly hibernation.
The feathery antennae of moths are comb-like. The antenna performs the same role as the butterfly as a source of orienting. They utilize them to locate food and find potential mates. There is a fragrance receptor in every hair. It is thought to be more powerful than the butterfly. Male moths of some species may be able to detect a potential mate up to six miles away by smelling it.
With more olfactory nerve receptors than butterflies, moths have antennae that resemble small leaves. Moths can detect nutrition and other animals thanks to this. Amazing sensors, these antennae have even been utilized in research to create “smellicopters.”
8. Moth vs Butterfly: Lifespans
The adult butterfly has a maximum lifespan of two weeks. However, some species spend the entire winter in hibernation. These butterflies have several-month lifespans.
A moths tend to have a lifespan that ranges from seven days to ten months, depending on the species. According to legend, most adult moths do not live long lives. Predators and the environment both increase the likelihood of extinction.
To learn more about the moth life cycle, visit our guides Moth Life Cycle & Pantry Moth Life Cycle!
FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)
Is a moth considered a butterfly?
Moths and butterflies are both part of the same insect family (Lepidoptera) but moths are not considered butterflies. The two have distinctive differences that separate them. Examining the antennae is one of the simplest methods to distinguish between a butterfly and a moth. The antennae of a butterfly have a club-like form, a long shaft, and a bulbous tip. The antennae of a moth are saw-edged or feathered.
Are moths and butterflies the same insect?
The class Lepidoptera, which includes all moths and butterflies, is one of the largest and most diverse groups of insects on the globe. There are over 165,000 species of Lepidoptera in the world, with about 18,000 of them being butterflies. These insects share a lot in common, but they also differ greatly from one another.