Moth or Butterfly?

Throughout the summer I’ve come across many moths and butterflies, each amazing in their own right. On one hike to a high alpine lake, a friend and I spent our lunch break watching a pair of moths with pale blue wings and dark spots. But were they moths? What’s the difference between a moth and a butterfly anyway?

Generally speaking butterflies are thought of as colorful and, well, beautiful, while moths are thought of as drab. A quick bit of research reveals that moths actually come in a great variety of colors and can be just as beautiful as any butterfly. One of the true differences between the two, though, is that moths tend to be nocturnal, and butterflies are diurnal. In addition, when resting, moths will usually flatten their wings against their bodies; butterflies, on the other hand, fold their wings up over their backs. And, if you get up close and personal with these insects, you’ll find that moths have antennae that are comb-like or feathery and butterflies have thin antennae with club-shaped tips.

Another interesting thing about our encounter was that they were on the ground – not just for a quick second, but throughout our lunch. Shouldn’t they have been on a flower? There certainly were a lot to choose from. As it turns out, butterflies will also consume nutrients, like salt, which is probably what our pair was doing.

Obviously, we were wrong – we were watching butterflies. Extensive research has led me to conclude that our butterflies were spring azure butterflies. Probably. There are a lot of nuances to butterfly identification I’ve learned.

One last thing I learned: there are many more species of moths than butterflies. There are approximately 160,000 different species of moths while only 11,000 species of butterflies in the world.