Moths and Butterflies – Understanding the Differences

When it comes to identifying insects, it’s easy to confuse a moth with a butterfly. Both have wings, antennae, and belong to the order Lepidoptera.

However, there are several physical differences that set them apart. In this article, we’ll explore the differences between moths and butterflies, including their wings, antennae, and body.

Butterfly vs Moth -differences between moths and butterflies

One of the most noticeable differences between moths and butterflies is their wings. Butterflies have larger, more colorful wings, while moths tend to have smaller, duller wings.

Additionally, butterflies’ wings are often held vertically when at rest, while moths’ wings are held flat. Another difference is that butterflies’ wings have scales only on one side, while moths’ wings have scales on both sides.

Another difference is their antennae. Butterflies have thin, club-shaped antennae, while moths’ antennae are usually feathery or saw-edged. Additionally, moths are more likely to be active at night, while butterflies are diurnal and active during the day.

These are just a few of the physical differences that we’ll explore in this article.

Physical Differences Between Moths and Butterflies


When it comes to wings, butterflies and moths have a few key differences. Butterflies tend to have larger, more colorful wings that are held vertically over their bodies when they are at rest. In contrast, moths typically have smaller, less colorful wings that are held flat or tent-like over their bodies. Moths also tend to have more feathery or comb-like antennae than a butterfly.


Talking of antennae, this is another area where butterflies and moths differ. As mentioned earlier, moths tend to have more feathery or comb-like antennae than the butterfly.

Butterflies, on the other hand, have slender antennae with small knobs or hooks on the ends.

A beautiful moth on bark


Butterflies and moths also have some differences when it comes to their bodies. Butterflies have slender, smooth bodies, while moths tend to have plumper, fuzzier bodies. Moths also tend to have thicker scales on their bodies.


Both insects have scales on their wings and bodies, but the scales on moth wings are typically larger and more loosely attached than those on butterfly wings. Moths also tend to have more scales on their bodies than the butterfly.

Overall, while they may look similar at first glance, there are actually many physical differences between the two insects.

From their wings to their antennae to their bodies and scales, each insect has its own unique characteristics that set it apart from the other.

Life Cycle of Moths and Butterflies

As we explore the difference between a moth and a butterfly, it’s important to understand their life cycle. Both insects undergo a complete metamorphosis, which means they go through four distinct stages: caterpillar, cocoon/chrysalis, pupal, and adult.

a moth larva -differences between moths and butterflies

Caterpillar Stage

During the caterpillar stage, the insect hatches from an egg and begins to eat voraciously. Caterpillars are usually plump and have a soft, cylindrical body with a distinct head and thorax.

They have six true legs and several pairs of false legs or prolegs.

Cocoon/Chrysalis Stage

close up of a hawk moth pupa

After the caterpillar has eaten enough, it will attach itself to a surface and begin to spin a cocoon or form a chrysalis. The cocoon/chrysalis is a protective covering that the insect will live in during the pupal stage.

Butterflies form a chrysalis, which is usually smooth and hard, while moths form a cocoon, which is usually made of silk and other materials.

Pupal Stage

pupa and moth

The pupal stage is a time of transformation. Inside the cocoon/chrysalis, the insect’s body undergoes a complete overhaul, and it emerges as an adult butterfly or moth. This stage can last anywhere from a few days to several months, depending on the species and environmental conditions.

Adult Stage

Once the insect emerges from the cocoon/chrysalis, it is in its adult stage. Adult butterflies and moths have wings and are capable of flight. They also have a proboscis, which is a long, tube-like mouthpart that they use to feed on nectar. Adult butterflies and moths mate and lay eggs, starting the life cycle all over again.

a photograph of butterflies mating

In conclusion, understanding the life cycle of butterflies and moths can help us appreciate these fascinating insects and the complex processes that govern their existence.


When it comes to behavior, there are some key differences between moths and butterflies. Let’s take a closer look at their activity times, feeding habits, and predators.

Activity Times

Moths are typically nocturnal, meaning they are active during the night. Butterflies, on the other hand, are diurnal and are active during the day. This difference in activity times is due to their different lifestyles and ecological roles. Moths are often associated with pollinating night-blooming flowers. While butterflies are associated with pollinating day-blooming flowers.

Feeding Habits

Moths and butterflies have different feeding habits as well. Moths tend to feed on nectar from a variety of plants, while some species of moths also feed on other insects.

Butterflies, on the other hand, primarily feed on nectar from flowers. They are also known to feed on pollen, sap, and rotting fruit.


Both moths and butterflies have a number of predators, including birds, bats, and spiders.

bird eating a butterfly

Moths are particularly vulnerable to predation due to their nocturnal activity and often rely on camouflage to avoid being detected.

Butterflies, on the other hand, are often brightly colored and use their colors to warn predators that they are toxic or unpalatable.

In summary, moths and butterflies have different activity times, feeding habits, and predators. Understanding these differences can help us appreciate the unique ecological roles that these insects play in our world.



Butterflies are a type of insect belonging to the order Lepidoptera. They are known for their beautiful and colorful wings, which are covered in tiny scales. Butterflies are active during the day and are often seen fluttering around flowers and plants. Some of the most well-known species of butterflies include the monarch butterfly, birdwings, and cabbage white.

Butterflies have slender bodies and long, thin antennae. They have two pairs of wings, which are usually held vertically above their bodies when they are at rest. Butterflies are important pollinators and play a vital role in many ecosystems.


Moths are also members of the Lepidoptera order.

Unlike butterflies, moths are typically active at night and are attracted to light sources. Moths have a similar body structure to butterflies, but their wings are usually less colorful and have a fuzzy appearance due to the presence of tiny scales. There are also far more moth species than butterfly. In fact there are over 160,000 different moth types.

Some of the most well-known species of moths include the luna moth. Moths are also important pollinators and play a vital role in many ecosystems.

In summary, while butterflies and moths share many similarities, they also have distinct differences. Butterflies are typically active during the day and have colorful wings, while moths are usually active at night and have less colorful, fuzzy wings.

Questions about Moths and Butterflies

In conclusion, we have learned that while moths and butterflies share many similarities, there are several key differences that set them apart. By examining their physical characteristics, behavior, and life cycles, we can easily identify which is which.

What is the difference between a moth and a butterfly?

Moths tend to be more drab in color, with muted shades of brown, gray, and black.

They also have thicker bodies and feathery antennae. Moths are primarily nocturnal and are attracted to light sources at night.
They also tend to lay their eggs on a variety of surfaces, including plants, fabrics, and even food.moth pollinating a flower

What makes a butterfly different to a moth?

Butterflies are known for their bright, vibrant colors and delicate wings.

They have slender bodies and thin antennae with a small knob at the end.

Butterflies are diurnal and are active during the day. They lay their eggs on specific host plants, and their caterpillars have distinct patterns and behaviors.
.differences between moths and butterflies

Overall, understanding the differences between moths and butterflies can help us appreciate the unique qualities of each insect.

Whether we are observing them in the wild or simply enjoying their beauty, we can now identify and appreciate the nuances that make these creatures so fascinating.

Tom Watson