Say the word “butterfly” and a vibrant orange and black winged Monarch butterfly may fly through your mind. Meanwhile, say “moth” and the brain might conjure up images of a dull, brown-winged beetle gnawing holes in clothing.
But is appearance really the main difference between these two winged insects? What is the exact difference between a moth and a butterfly?
It turns out the difference is more than worm wings.
Moths and butterflies both belong to the order Lepidoptera, but there are many physical and behavioral differences between the two types of insects.
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First of all, moths are much more diverse than butterflies. According to the Smithsonian Institution, there are about 160,000 species of moths, compared with about 11,000 species of butterflies.
Both insects have scales on their wings. However, moths tend to have gray, brown or beige wings, while butterflies are often more brightly decorated, notes the Smithsonian Institution.
This color difference may be partly due to behavioral differences between the two insects. Moths are nocturnal and attempt to camouflage during the day on dark objects such as bark and leaves.
Butterflies also camouflage this way, but they are diurnal, which means they spend all hours of the day moving from flower to flower to nibble on nectar. Their brightly colored wings are often an attempt to tell predators they contain unpleasant-tasting chemicals, according to Reiman Gardens at Iowa State University.
Another behavioral difference between the two species is that butterflies often fold their wings back to rest, while moths flatten their wings against their bodies, according to the BBC’s Science Focus.
Their pupal stage (between larval and adult stages) is also slightly different. Moths make cocoons wrapped in silk. Butterflies, on the other hand, form chrysalises, which are hard, smooth and silkless, according to the Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden in Henrico, Virginia.
The physical differences are many. The antennae of the butterfly are thin with a club-shaped pointed tip, compared to the moth’s feather-like antennae or comb.
In addition to the difference in wing color, with butterflies being more brightly colored, moth wings, unlike butterflies, have a structure called a propeller, which connects the forewings to the hind wings.
While these different characteristics often distinguish a butterfly from a moth, there are many exceptions to these rules. Comet moth or Madagascan moth (Argema mittrei) sporty bright yellow outfits dotted with scarlet spots and are active during the day, according to the National History Museum in London. And the endangered Schaus swallow (Heraclides Aristodemus ponceanus), live in the swamps of Florida, has a rather boring brown color, speckled with some white spots, according to the University of Florida.
Originally published on Live Science.
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