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Difference Between Moth and Butterfly

Updated on May 22, 2013

Telling the difference between a moth and a butterfly, both belonging to the insect order Lepidoptera, can be quite confusing to many because of the fact that some butterflies can look like moths just as much as some moths can look like butterflies. However, getting to spot the distinction between these two insects can be achieved by taking a look at their external anatomy and by observing their behaviors.

Siproeta Butterfly Perched on a Flower
Siproeta Butterfly Perched on a Flower | Source

A. External Anatomy of Moths and Butterflies:

Perhaps the best way to tell the distinction between butterflies and a moths is by taking a close look at their antennae. Butterflies typically have club-tipped antennas (i.e., their antennas' tips appear like clubs) while moths have feather-like antennas. There are some moth species whose antennas may not appear feather-like; however, these antennas aren't club-tipped. Moreover, butterflies typically have bright-colored wings and thin and smooth bodies while moths, on the other hand, have dull-colored wings and hairy and thick bodies.

An Emperor Gum Moth in Flight
An Emperor Gum Moth in Flight

B. Behavioral Differences Between a Moth and a Butterfly:

Moths are generally nocturnal, meaning that they usually come out at night to go about their activities (looking for food, eating, laying eggs, or mating). Furthermore, moths are typically attracted to any artificial light. On the other hand, butterflies are generally diurnal, meaning that they are active during the day and they do nothing but sleep or be inactive at night. However there are cases, though rare, when moths may appear during daytime or when butterflies may appear during the night. These usually happen when they are rattled from their hiding places for some reasons.

Another behavioral difference between butterflies and moths is the fact that butterflies, when resting, typically fold their wings, either partially or fully. On the other hand, moths typically spread out their wings or hold their wings downward and flat against their bodies.

To Recap:

  1. Butterflies are generally diurnal (active during the day) while moths are generally nocturnal (active during the night).
  2. Butterflies typically have club-shaped antennas while moths typically have feather-like antennas. There are some moth species that don't have a feather-like antennas; however, these antennas won't have club-shaped tips.
  3. When resting, butterflies inherently fold their wings partially or fully while moths, on the other, inherently keep their wings open or keep them laid flat in a downward position.


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