Moths vs. Butterflies

With more than 12,000 species in North America alone, moths outnumber their closely related cousins “the butterflies” by nearly a 15-1 ratio.

Similarities between moths and butterflies

While taxonomically distinct, moths and butterflies share commonalities when it comes to their morphology and behavior. For example, both groups have a complex life cycle with complete metamorphosis, they both have scales covering their wings (often perceived as “powder” that is left on your hands after handling them), and the majority of species in both groups are nectar feeders.

  • Both undergo metamorphosis
  • Scales covering wings
  • Largely nectar feeders

Differences between moths and butterflies

There are also some notable differences (though exceptions abound). For example, moths are most active at night, have stouter and hairier bodies, and have filamentous or feathery antennae. Comparatively, butterflies are most active in daytime, have more slender bodies, and have slender antennae with clubs or hooks on their ends. Though butterflies are often perceived to be the more colorful of the two, moth species come in a wide array of colors and patterns often rivaling or surpassing those of butterflies.  


  • Varied antennae/feathery
  • Thick, hairy body
  • Active at night
  • Make a cocoon, use silk
  • Wings open or tent like at rest


  • Clubbed antennae
  • Thin, smooth body
  • Active in the daytime
  • Make a chrysalis
  • Wings held over back at rest