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

Insect Butterfly Moth
Antennae rounded clubs on the ends thin or often feathery
Body thin and smooth thick and fuzzy
Active during the day during the night
Color colorful dull
Pupal Stage chrysalis cocoon
Wings held vertically when resting held flat against body when resting