What is a butterfly?

   The term Lepidoptera, which means "scaled wings", refers to butterflies and moths. Butterflies and moths are arthropods and insects. The special characteristics that make an insect a member of the Order Lepidoptera are:

1)  4 large, showy wings

2)  Scales on the wings

3)  Sucking mouthparts (in those species which eat as adults)

4)  Large compound eyes in adults

5)  Complete metamorphosis

 The main differences between butterflies and moths include:

Antennae:
Antennae are clubbed or hooked.

Activity:
Butterflies are usually most active during the day (diurnal). Some butterflies are most active at dawn and dusk (crepuscular) instead of during the heat of the day.

Coloration:
Most butterflies are brightly colored.

 

Body Size:

Butterfly bodies are generally smooth and slender.

Pupa:
Butterflies pupate in a chrysalis (chrysalides, plural). Butterflies do not form cocoons.

Wing Morphology:
Wings are not hooked together.

Wings at Rest:
Wings are generally held vertically over body at rest. (However, when butterflies are basking in the sun, their wings are held outstretched at sides.)

Antennae:
Antennae are either feathery, or pointed. There is no hook or club on the end.

 

Activity:
Most moths are active during the night (nocturnal).

 

Coloration:
Most moths have dull brownish or gray coloration.

Body Size:
Moth bodies are generally thicker and "furry" looking.

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Pupa:
Moth pupa are often enclosed within a silken cocoon. (Some moths incorporate leaves into the cocoon.) The cocoon itself is NOT the pupa! The caterpillar makes the cocoon and then pupates inside it. Some moth caterpillars bury themselves in the soil and pupate underground. These moths do not make cocoons to protect the pupa.

Wing Morphology:
Forewing and hindwing on each side is coupled with a "hook."

 

Wings at Rest:
In most moths, wings are held horizontally or chevron-like with hindwings covered at rest.