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The Difference Between a Moth and a Butterfly

How do you tell the difference between a moth and a butterfly?

Look for these clues:

From Butterfly...or Moth? by Suzanne Wilson

Butterflies usually rest with their wings closed, while moths rest with their wings open.

Butterflies have long, thin antenna, while moths have shorter feathery antennas.

Butterflies generally gather food during the day while moths are seen more at nighttime.

Most moths make a silky cocoon, while butterflies usually make a shiny chrysalis.

Keep in mind that there are approximately 200,000 known species of Lepidoptera (only 10 percent of which are butterflies), so there is almost always an exception or two to every rule or generalization.

What is a cocoon? Do both butterflies and moths make them?
Moths, with some exceptions, make cocoons. A moth larva spins silk from modified salivary glands, forming a cocoon around itself. Inside, the larva changes into a pupa. A moth may incorporate a leaf or twigs in creating a cocoon.

Most butterflies have a naked pupa, no fuzz around it, so it isn't a cocoon. It's called a chrysalis. The chrysalis of each butterfly species has a particular shape and coloration. Some look like twigs or dead leaves, some like jeweled ornaments. The monarch's chrysalis is an elegant pale green, dotted with gold.

This page updated: 2017

Copyright © Rachel Sumner