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Moth vs. Butterfly - What is the Difference?

Moths and butterflies are both well known here in Winnebago County, especially during the summer and fall months. But what sets them apart from each other? Here are some differences & similarities between moths and butterflies that you may not know.


Difference #1

While most moths typically have dull-colored wings, butterflies usually have intricate wing patterns with vibrant patterns.

moth vs. butterfly wing color & pattern (photos courtesy of Canva.com)
moth vs. butterfly wing color & pattern (photos courtesy of Canva.com)
Difference #2

Moths are nocturnal, meaning they are most active at night. Most butterflies are diurnal, meaning they are most active during the day.


Difference #3

Many moth species form a cocoon to reorganize into an adults. Their cocoons are soft and made of silk produced by the caterpillar, or larva, of the moth. Butterflies do not create cocoons - they form a chrysalis. A chrysalis has a similar shape to a cocoon, but is hard and smooth.


Difference #4

Moth antennae usually have side branches that have a feathery or saw-edged appearance. Butterfly antenna are long and most have round bulbs at the end of each antenna.

moth vs. butterfly antennae (photos courtesy of Canva.com)
moth vs. butterfly antennae (photos courtesy of Canva.com)
Difference #5

Moth bodies are usually more bulbous and not as long as butterflies. A butterfly's body is typically long and slender with long, skinny legs.


Similarity #1

Most moths and butterflies have the same diet. They drink nectar from flowering plants.


Similarity #2

They both have scales that cover their wings & body.


Similarity #3

Moths and butterflies are thought to have co-evolved with each other. Their evolution is based upon the evolution of flowering plants.


Similarity #4

They both go through a metamorphic life cycle.

metamorphic lifecycle of monarch butterfly (photos courtesy of Canva.com)
metamorphic lifecycle of monarch butterfly (photos courtesy of Canva.com)

Now that you know a bit more about the differences & similarities between these winged wonders, head out to your forest preserves to observe their beauty! Or better yet, attend one of our moth sheeting nights hosted by our Natural Resource Department - find more info here.




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4 Comments


Both insects play crucial roles in their ecosystems, particularly as pollinators. boxing random

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Ann Green
Ann Green
Jul 12

In order to reorganize into adults, several moth species create cocoons. Their silk-producing caterpillar, or larva, makes their soft cocoons. Butterflies form chrysalis, not cocoons. A chrysalis resembles a cocoon in shape, but it is smooth and firm. Happy Wheels

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The side branches of moth antennae typically have a sawtooth or feathery look. Butterfly antennas are lengthy, and the majority of them have rounded bulbs at the tips.

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It's intriguing to learn about their distinct wing patterns, behavior, and evolutionary ties. Nature never ceases to amaze! snake game

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