Posted by: BibleScienceGuy | February 18, 2010

14. Butterfly or Moth? 

Promethea Moth

Can you tell if an insect is a butterfly or a moth?

Butterflies and moths both belong to the Lepidoptera (meaning scale covered wing) order of insects. They both have 3 pairs of legs, 2 pairs of wings, and 1 pair of antenna.

They feed by drinking nectar through a long tube. Between meals this proboscis is coiled and stored under the head. Lepidoptera are never at a loss for a straw.

Estimates of the number of butterfly species in the world range from 15,000 to 28,000. New ones are continually being discovered. For moths, more than 130,000 species have been identified and there are surely many more. Lepidoptera is the second largest order of insects, being exceeded only by beetles.

Despite many similarities, there are major differences between butterflies and moths.

Most moths are nocturnal while most butterflies are diurnal. Moths are drab; butterflies are brightly colored. Moths have short, thick, hairy bodies—butterflies have long, thin bodies. At rest, moth wings are flat out at the side (horizontal), while butterfly wings are together and upright (vertical).

Most moths have camouflage coloring to help them blend into the background and avoid predators.  The promethea moth in the picture has eye and teeth markings on the wings which may help deter predators.

Moths have tiny structures that hook the hind wing to the forewing. Butterflies lack these hooking structures. Wing scales on moths are larger than those of butterflies.

Butterfly antennae are thin and threadlike and knobbed at the ends (think “golf club”). Moth antennae are thicker, feathery, and almost never knobbed.

A butterfly pupates as an unprotected chrysalis hanging free from a support. Moths pupate in a cocoon on the ground, underground, or on the bottom of a sheltering structure.

Because of exceptions to these general classification guidelines, there are some insects that are hard to classify as either butterflies or moths. The antenna difference actually turns out to be the best distinguishing characteristic.

Read the prequels in this series on Monarch Butterflies and their significance for the creation/evolution controversy:
1. Insect GPS
2. Monarch Butterflies
3. Caterpillar or Butterfly—Which Was First?
4. Monarch Caterpillars
5. Morphing Monarchs
6. Changing Chrysalis
7. Emerging Monarchs
8. Butterfly vs. Caterpillar
9. Migrating Monarchs
10. Navigating Monarchs
11. Monarchs on Noah’s Ark?
12. Monarch or Viceroy?
13. Butterfly Evolution?

Read the sequel:
15. Mexican Jumping Beans (with video)

Soli Deo Gloria.

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©William T. Pelletier, Ph.D.
“contending earnestly for the faith”
“destroying speculations against the knowledge of God”
(Jude 1:3; 2 Cor 10:4)
Thursday February 18, 2010 A.D.

Read my February 2010 Bible-Science column
Manhood and Monogamy.

And Yahweh made the beasts of the earth after their kind, and the cattle after their kind, and everything that creeps on the ground after its kind; and Yahweh saw that it was good. (Genesis 1:25)

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