What Is the Difference Between Butterflies and Moths?

The Atlas Moth is the largest species of moth.
The Atlas Moth is the largest species of moth.

It is tough to tell apart a moth and a butterfly at first glance because they do belong to the same order called Lepidoptera. However, these two insects are as different as day and night both physically and in how they behave. Butterflies belong to the suborder Rhopalocera. Moths, on the other hand, belong to the suborder Heterocera.

Moth Species

Moths are believed to have more than 160,000 species with most of them yet to be adequately described or appropriately named. The most famous moths include the Atlas Moth which is the largest in the world. The White Witch Moth which has the longest wingspan, reaching close to 12 inches. The Madagascan Sunset Moth is considered to be the most beautiful Lepidoptera.

Butterfly Species

Butterfly species are way fewer compared to moths; there are about 17,500 species in the wild. Some of the most known species include the Monarch butterfly which is known for traveling long distances of more than 3,000 miles during their migration. The Blue Morpho is easy to spot thanks to their bright blue wings that stretch for more than 8 inches. The Luzon Peacock Swallowtail has colorful patterns on its wings that end in a shape of the tail. The Dead Leaf butterfly boasts one of the best camouflages in the wild; this butterfly does not move around much instead stays motionless mimicking the appearance of a dried dead leaf.

Life Cycle

Like most winged insects, butterflies undergo the four-stage life cycle starting off as eggs then transitioning into a caterpillar then into the pupa and finally turning into a butterfly where it goes on to live for between a week and 12 months depending on the species. During the pupal stage, butterflies form chrysalises which are hard, smooth, and silkless. Moths, like the butterflies, undergo the four-stage life cycle and has a lifespan that ranges from 6 to 9 months. However, their pupal stages involve the creation of cocoons that are covered all round with silk.


Butterflies have thin antennae that have small club-like structures at the end while moths have a very feathery antenna with no ball structures. In terms of body shape, butterflies are incredibly slender with a smooth body while moths are very stout with a very hairy body. Butterfly wings are very colorful with a myriad of patterns. Moth wings have a structure called the frenulum which joins together the forewing to the hind wing. Their wings usually exhibit only one color, save for the Madagascan moth which displays an array of vibrant color on its wings.

Behavioral Differences

Butterflies are diurnal insects, all their primary activities are handled during the day, from feeding to mating to moving about. Moths, on the other hand, are nocturnal insects, they spend the day sleeping and go about their business at night. When sleeping or resting butterflies usually fold their wings back vertically. Moths on the other hand, rest with their wings flattened against their bodies; some species spread the wings out to form a shape that resembles a jet.


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