The order Lepidoptera contains the diverse and colorful butterflies and moths. Although the number changes all the time, there are around 170,000 species of Lepidopterans. Most of these are moths (about 90 percent). In North America alone there are around 12,423 species! The name Lepidoptera comes from greek roots that mean “scale wing” – lepis: “scale” – ptera: “wing”.
How can I tell a moth from a butterfly?
While most people would say they know the difference between a moth and a butterfly, it isn’t as easy as it seems. First appearance can be deceiving; there are large beautiful moths and small dull butterflies.
One very easy first indicator of whether a lepidopteran is a moth or a butterfly is its behavior. Moths generally fly at night and butterflies fly during the day. Upon closer inspection, one will find that moths have clubbed antennae while moths range from single strands to feathery branches. Moths rest with their wings flat or “tented” over the body. Butterflies produce naked pupa known as a chrysalis while moths pupate and form a cocoon around their pupa. This cocoon is made of silk and is often combined with other natural materials like leaves and body hair.
Learn more about how caterpillars make the transformation to moths and butterflies here.