Moth vs. Butterfly

Moth vs. Butterfly

Moths and butterflies are types of insects that belong to the order Lepidoptera. There are 18.500 species of butterfly and 160.000 species of moth that can be found all over the world except in the polar regions and extremely hot deserts. Moths are slightly "older" types of insects. They have appeared on the planet 190 million years ago, 134 million years before the first butterflies. Both groups of insects undergo complete metamorphosis and finish their life cycle after few days, couple of months or several years. Diet of adult moths and butterflies is based on the nectar, while larvae consume plant sap, leaves or small insects, depending on the species. Aside from similar morphology, moths and butterflies do not have much in common. They differ in:

Size and Color of the Body

Butterflies are generally larger than moths. Smallest butterflies have a wingspan of 0.25 to 0.5 inch, while the smallest moths have a wingspan of 0.09 inch. Large species of butterfly and moth can be size of a small bird with a wingspan of 11 inches. Butterflies usually have brightly colored wings covered with various spots and markings, while moths are often plain brown, grey, black or white without prominent markings on the wings.

Morphology of Body and Antennae

Moths have sturdy body and furry abdomen, while butterflies have slender body and smooth abdomen. Forelegs are fully developed in moths, and partially reduced in butterflies. Moths have feathery, comb-like or filamentous antennae without club-shaped ends, while butterflies have long, thin antennae with ball-shaped tips.


When they are not active, butterflies hold their wings together above the back, while moths spread their wings in a tent-like manner. Moths have frenulum, filament which connects forewings and hind wings and ensures they work together during the flight. Butterflies do not have frenulum.


Most species of butterfly are active during the day (diurnal insects), while most moths are active during the night (nocturnal insects).

Pupa Stage

Moths and butterflies can be easily distinguished even before they reach the phase of adult insects. Fully grown larvae of moth produce the cocoon made of silk, while larvae of butterfly transform into adult insects inside naked pupa, also known as chrysalis. Unlike cocoon, chrysalis has smooth surface (without silk filaments).

Association with Humans

Many species of moth are classified as pest because they reduce the yield of commercially important plants and produce damage on the clothes made of wool and silk. Domesticated silkworm and many species of silkmoth are used for the manufacture of silk, while larvae of some species of moth represent important source of food for the humans. Some butterflies can also produce damage on the crops, but most species are beneficial. Butterflies play important role in the elimination of pests (scale insects) from the gardens and in the pollination of the plants.

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