Differences Between Butterflies and Moths

How do you tell a butterfly from a moth? 

Both moths and butterflies are in the order Lepidoptera, but there are general differences that can help you know which is which.


Here are a few overall rules that can be used to distinguish moths from butterflies. Of course, there are always exceptions to the rules.


Moths have simple thread-like or ‘feathery’ antenna without a club.

Polyphemus moth

The antennae of the Polyphemus moth (Antheraea polyphemus) have hairlike olfactory receptors that are used to detect female sex pheromones.

Butterflies have a thickened club or hook on the tip of the antenna.

Great Southern White (Ascia monuste)

Antennae of the Great Southern White butterfly (Ascia monuste) have blue knobs at the end. Butterfly antennae are used for the sense of smell and balance.

Exceptions: Several families of moths have antennae with clubs, most notably the Sun moths (Castniidae).

By John Tann – Flickr: Golden Sun Moth, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=22448097


Moths typically have duller colors.


When I saw this Wood Nymph moth (Cercyonis pegala), I had no idea what it was. It looks like bird poop, perhaps to discourage birds and other predators from eating it.

Butterflies usually have brighter colors.

The Blue Morpho (Morpho menelaus) is among the largest butterflies in the world with wings spanning from five to eight inches. Their vivid, iridescent blue coloring is a result of the microscopic scales on the backs of their wings, which reflect light.

Exceptions: Many moths are brilliantly colored, especially day-flying moths.

Madagascan Sunset moth (Chrysiridia rhipheus)

When we think of moths sometimes we think they are not as colorful as butterflies. The Madagascan Sunset moth (Chrysiridia rhipheus) is a day-flying moth and is considered one of the most colorful. Madagascan Sunset moths are found only in tropical forests on the island of Madagascar off the southeast coast of Africa.

Resting posture

Moths hold wings flat when resting.

Cecropia Moth (Hyalophora cecropia)

I mostly raise butterflies but occasionally I do raise moths. I raised and released this beautiful Cecropia moth (Hyalophora cecropia).

Butterflies hold wings together above their body when resting.

Malachite (Siproeta stelenes)

A Malachite butterfly (Siproeta stelenes) resting with its wings closed. The colors of the wings are a bit duller on its underside and help it to camouflage itself.

Exceptions: Many moths, including Geometrid moths (Geometridae spp.) hold their wings up in a butterfly-like fashion when resting. Butterflies in the Lycaenid subfamily Riodininae, and Skippers in the subfamily Pyrginae hold their wings flat when resting.


Moths spin a cocoon before they pupate.

moth pupa

This moth used the hair from its body to create a cocoon.

Butterflies will shed their skin for the last time and reveal a chrysalis.


The Monarch caterpillar hangs in the “J” position before it sheds its skin.

Exceptions: Many moths do not spin a cocoon; many butterflies and skippers form a silken shelter, often with plant leaves.


Moths are nocturnal and fly at night.


Hawk moth (Sphingidae ssp.) nectaring on a flower. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/science/science-news/3351132/Mystery-of-moth-flight-revealed.html

Butterflies are diurnal and are active during the warmth of the day.

Tiger Longwings

These Tiger Longwings (Heliconius hecale) are basking in the sun. The optimum body temperature for a butterfly to fly is between 82° and 102° F (28° and 39° C). They regulate their body temperature and keep it warm by practicing behavioral tactics such a shivering their wings or basking in the sun.

Exceptions: A few butterflies are active at dusk; many moth species fly during the day.

oleander moth

Not all moths are nocturnal. Polka Dot Wasp moths (Syntomeida epilais) fly during daylight hours. Click on the link to read more about this moth: http://www.floridanaturepictures.com/butterflies/polkadot_wasp_moth.htm

The Common Evening Brown (Melanitis leda)

The Evening Brown butterfly (Melanitis leda) is a common species that flies erratically at dusk. Here it’s sipping on sap from a tree.


In this stunning image of a caiman with a vibrant crown of butterflies, the water that collects on the caiman’s skin is providing salts and minerals for several species of butterflies.

A crown of butterflies (Photo by Mark Cowan.) http://mymodernmet.com/mark-cowan-caiman-and-butterflies/

Many species of butterflies congregate on wet sand and mud to partake in “puddling,” drinking water and extracting salts and minerals from damp sand or mud. In many species, this “mud-puddling” behavior is restricted to the males, and studies have suggested that the nutrients collected may be provided as a nuptial gift during mating.

Male Swallowtail butterflies puddling along a river bank. Photo by Chelsey Danger. Used with permission.

The first time I observed this behavior I was several years ago in Florida. Our family was enjoying a six-mile tubing adventure down Ichetucknee Springs near Gainesville. (The real Magic Kingdom of Florida.) As we approached the end of our trip, I noticed about fifty swallowtail butterflies of various species congregated together exactly where we needed to get out of the river.

There was a cement embankment that slid down to the river to make it easier to get out of the water. The butterflies seemed totally oblivious to us as we ascended onto the embankment. I realized that as people got out of the river, water from their bodies dripped onto the wet cement. These butterflies were sipping the salts from the sweat being washed off as people got out of the river.

Tubing Florida’s Ichetucknee River. Photo by Robin Draper of Authentic Florida.

Another time I experience this phenomenon was at Butterfly World in Coconut Creek, Florida. I was sitting on a bench, enjoying the many species of tropical butterflies inside the exhibit. It was a very hot day and I was covered in sweat. To my surprise, and utter delight, a Malachite butterfly (Siproeta stelenes) landed on my hand and proceeded to stick its proboscis onto my sweaty hand to sip the salt. It stayed there for several minutes, totally oblivious to my camera.

This Malachite butterfly (Siproeta stelenes) is enjoying the salt from my hand.

Recently Carol Pasternak, author of How to Raise Monarch Butterflies: A Step-by-Step Guide for Children , noticed a Silvery Blue (Glaucopsyche lygdamus) butterfly on the shoelace of her running shoes. Apparently the perspiration from her arduous workout seeped into the shoelaces providing a tasty treat for the butterfly.

Silvery Blue (Glaucopsyche lygdamus). Photo by the Monarch Butterfly Crusader, Carol Pasternak. Used with permission.

Who knew that old sweaty shoes would attract so many butterflies!

Photo by Юрий Бахаев. (Used with permission.)

Butterflies for Mother’s Day

Mother’s Day is just around the corner. Children will have fun making these unique butterflies for mom or grandma for Mother’s Day. And these will be gifts that will always be cherished.

Here is a cute little card made from the handprints with a little poem:

This isn’t just a butterfly, as you can plainly see.
I made it with my hand, which is a part of me.
It comes with lots of love, especially to say
I hope you have a very
Happy Mother’s Day!

Click on the link for instructions on how to make this card: http://franklyspeakingtoo.blogspot.com/2011/05/ilovetocreate-butterfly-mothers-day.html


Mom will love the framed butterfly footprints!


Another cute idea is to paint a pot and add a foot-print butterfly. Then plant some flowers inside the pot.




I love this idea using both handprints and footprints to make butterflies and flowers.

You can custom order this from My Forever Prints.


Here is a another little poem to go along with the butterfly prints.


These beautiful and colorful butterfly cards are fun for kids to paint and add a special artistic touch.

Click here for instructions on how to make these colorful butterflies: http://www.hellowonderful.co/post/BEAUTIFUL-PAINTED-HANDMADE-BUTTERFLY-CARDS

A simple pop-up card with a lovely message will make any mother happy!

Find more Mother’s Day Cards at http://amzn.to/2r48ZSQ

Wishing all you mothers and grandmothers a wonderful Mother’s Day filled with butterflies!

To find more ideas for butterfly-themed arts and crafts for kids check out my Pinterest board at https://www.pinterest.com/MyButterflyLady/butterfly-arts-and-crafts-for-kids/

Top Three Trees for Butterflies

When planning a butterfly garden one typically thinks of planting flowers. But did you know that trees are some of the best plants for attracting butterflies?

There are many different trees that attract butterflies, both as a source of nectar and as a host plant for caterpillars. Trees also provide butterflies protection during bad weather as well as a place for them to perch during the day and to roost during the night.

Female Eastern Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio glaucus) is attracted to the sweet blooms of the American Plum (Prunus americana).

Three common species of trees that support dozens of butterfly species and hundreds of moth species include oaks, willows, and chokecherries.

Oaks (Quercus spp.) support many different species of butterflies including the myriad hairstreak and duskywing species as well as the California Sister (Adelpha californica) and the Arizona Sister (Adelpha eulalia). Oaks also support the Imperial moth (Eacles imperiali), the Polyphemus moth (Antheraea polyphemus) and the Rosy Maple moth (Dryocampa rubicunda) in addition to others.

A Mourning Cloak (Nymphalis antiopa) is sipping on the sap of an oak tree.

There is such an incredible diversity of oak species that exist across the entire North American continent, many which are small shrubs that can be used to add to your landscape. Some examples are the California Shrub Oak (Quercus berberidifolia), the Gambel Oak (Quercus gambelii) found in the Southwestern deserts into the Great Plains, the Turkey Oak (Quercus laevis) of the Southeast and the Scrub Oak (Quercus ilicifolia) of southeastern Canada and northeastern United States.

California Sister (Adelpha californica) on oak. Photo by David Horner http://solardarkroom.photoshelter.com/index

The Chokecherry (Prunus virginiana) is another tree that is distributed throughout much of the United States and southern Canada and is quite adaptable to various soil types and planting conditions. Chokecherry attracts widespread species of butterflies, both as a host plant for caterpillars and as a source of nectar for butterflies. Among the butterflies that use the Chokecherry as a host plant are the Lorquin Admira(Limenitis lorquini), the Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio glaucus), the Two-tailed Swallowtail (Papilio multicaudata), the Spring Azure (Celastrina ladon) and the Coral Hairstreak (Satyrium titus).

Chokecherry blossoms in spring are a good place to look for butterflies in search of nectar, as is this Juniper Hairstreak (Callophrys gryneus). NPS photo by Sally King.

Various willows (Salix spp.) are host plants for the Viceroy (Limenitis archippus), Mourning Cloak (Nymphalis antiopa), Red-spotted Purple (Limenitis arthemis astyanax), Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio glaucus), and the Lorquin’s Admiral (Limenitis lorquini). Willows are found in every part of the United States and Canada, with locally-appropriate native species available for any butterfly garden. These awesome trees are fast growing and will tolerate many soil types. They come in a variety of sizes and shapes. Most willows do well in full-sun and moist environments.

Willow trees attract many different species of butterflies including Lorquin’s Admiral (Limenitis lorquini), Mourning Cloak (Nymphalis antiopa), Viceroy (Limenitis archippus), Red-spotted Purple (Limenitis arthemis astyanax).

Remember, you will only attract butterflies that are native to your area. Find out what native tree species grow best for your region. The best place to start is a native plant nursery. Click on this link to help you find a native nursery where you live: http://www.plantnative.org/national_nursery_dir_main.htm


Banded Orange Heliconian

A very stunning butterfly is the Banded Orange Heliconian (Dryadula phaetusa) also known as the Orange Tiger.

It can be found from Mexico to northern Argentina, and in summer can be found on rare occasions as far north as central Florida.

Photographed at the Minnesota Zoo’s Butterfly Exhibit, the Banded Orange butterfly  sits atop a Purple Coneflower. Copyright © 2005 by April King. Find Coneflower seeds here: http://amzn.to/2oghGMr

The vertical lines on the wings are an example of disruptive patterning. This breaks up the outline of the butterfly to make it difficult for birds and other predators to see and catch it.

Ventral and dorsal view of Banded Orange Heliconian. Photo by Didier Descouens.

This butterfly displays many interesting behaviors. It not only feeds on the nectar of flowers, the males sip nutrients from wet sand and mud and bird droppings. This behavior is called mud-puddling. From the fluids they obtain nutrients such as salts and amino acids needed for successful mating.

Banded Orange Heliconian photographed near Iguazu Falls, where the countries of Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay meet, and one of the best places in the world to see butterflies. http://www.focusonnature.com/IguazuButterfliesList.htm

It is also common to see the male Banded Orange Heliconian sipping the salty tears of crocodiles.

Males are very territorial and will find a place to perch near the host plant, Passionvine (passiflora spp.), where they can watch for females. They patrol around the area in search of females. Once a potential mate is spotted, the male will flutter around the female in a figure-eight motion before settling beside her. If she is receptive she remains motionless, and the male then half opens his wings. He then flutters them very rapidly for a few seconds to direct his pheromones towards her antennae, which has the effect of placating her. The male then curves his abdomen around to make contact and copulate.

Just like many Heliconius species, the butterflies will find a bush or tree where they can rest for the night. They tend to find the same place every day around dusk to settle down in clusters to roost overnight.

Roosting Banded Orange Heliconian butterflies. Photo by Almir Candido de Almeida.

Butterfly Alphabet Poster http://amzn.to/2od7jZV