How to Tell the Difference Between a Butterfly and a Moth

6 Differences Between Butterflies and Moths

Luna moth.
The luna moth is colorful, so many people think it's a butterfly. Flickr user Geoff Gallice (CC license)

Of all the insect groups, we are probably most familiar with the butterflies and moths. We see moths fluttering around our porch lights, and watch butterflies visiting flowers in our gardens.

There is no real taxonomic difference between butterflies and moths. Both are classified in the order Lepidoptera. This order contains over 100 families of insects worldwide, some of which are moths and some of which are butterflies.

However, there are some differences in physical and behavioral characteristics that are easy to learn and recognize.

As with most rules there are exceptions. For example, the luna moth is bright green and lavender, and not dull as suggested in the chart below. It does have feathery antennae, however, and holds its wings flat against its body. With a little practice, you should be able to recognize the exceptions and make a good identification choice.

Differences Between Butterflies and Moths

Antennaerounded clubs on the endsthin or often feathery
Bodythin and smooththick and fuzzy
Activeduring the dayduring the night
Pupal Stagechrysaliscocoon
Wingsheld vertically when restingheld flat against body when resting