The truth is that a butterfly is just another type of moth. Here are some general guidelines: butterflies only fly during the day, whereas some moths fly during the day and others at night. Moths generally fold their wings over their bodies like a tent whereas butterflies raise them high over the body. A moth generally has a larger, hairier thorax and abdomen than a butterfly. The most consistent difference is that butterflies have clubbed antennae, whereas moths have feathery antennae or tapered antennae. For every difference that one can find between butterflies and moths, one can also find an exception.
The truth is that a butterfly is just another type of moth. Here are some general guidelines: butterflies only fly during the day, whereas some moths fly during the day and others at night. Moths generally fold their wings over their bodies like a tent whereas butterflies raise them high over the body. A moth generally has a larger, hairier thorax and abdomen than a butterfly. The most consistent difference is that butterflies have clubbed antennae, whereas moths have feathery antennae or tapered antennae. For every difference that one can find between butterflies and moths, one can also find an exception.

© 1999, CHIN. All Rights Reserved.

Close-up image of a moth's antennae

Moth antennae

Photo: E.T. Jones (PMA)

Quebec, CANADA
Nova Scotia, CANADA
PERU
Ontario, CANADA
Alberta, CANADA
© E.T. Jones (PMA)


Close-up image of a butterfly's antennae

Butterfly antennae

Photo: Courtesy of P. Hall

PERU
Nova Scotia, CANADA
Alberta, CANADA
Quebec, CANADA
Ontario, CANADA
© Courtesy of P. Hall


The largest moth and butterfly species in Canada are, the Cecropia Moth (Hyalophora cecropia)(11-15 cm), and the Giant Swallowtail (Papilio cresphontes) (8.3-11.3 cm), respectively. The largest moth and butterfly species in the world are believed to be S.E. Asia’s Atlas moth (Attacus atlas) (up to 25 cm), and S.E. Asia’s Queen Alexandra’s Birdwing female (Ornithoptera alexandrae) (up to 29 cm), respectively.
The largest moth and butterfly species in Canada are, the Cecropia Moth (Hyalophora cecropia)(11-15 cm), and the Giant Swallowtail (Papilio cresphontes) (8.3-11.3 cm), respectively. The largest moth and butterfly species in the world are believed to be S.E. Asia’s Atlas moth (Attacus atlas) (up to 25 cm), and S.E. Asia’s Queen Alexandra’s Birdwing female (Ornithoptera alexandrae) (up to 29 cm), respectively.

© 1999, CHIN. All Rights Reserved.

Largest moth in the world

The Cecropia Moth (Hyalophora cecropia)

Insectarium de Montréal

Quebec, CANADA
Alberta, CANADA
PERU
Nova Scotia, CANADA
Ontario, CANADA
© Insectarium de Montréal


Largest butterfly in the world

The Giant Swallowtail (Papilio cresphontes)

Photo: Courtesy of P. Hall

Ontario, CANADA
Alberta, CANADA
PERU
Nova Scotia, CANADA
Quebec, CANADA
© Courtesy of P. Hall


Learning Objectives

The learner will:

  • recognize and describe the difference between a butterfly and a moth
  • cultivate an interest in the natural sciences

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