A summer of learning: How to tell butterflies from moths

It has been a summer of wonder and amazement, based on apparently chance encounters of this insect or that. But of course what we see— if we are watching—reflects what is here for now, in this season (or sub-sub-season). And so, it seems that one week, quite suddenly, our Cheshire neighborhood (Flagstaff, AZ) was home to lots of butterfly visitors.

When they first appeared, I had no idea what distinguishes butterflies from moths. Well, if you are lucky enough to see them up close, and get a good look at their antennae, most butterflies sport “clubbed” antennae, while most moth antennae or “feathery or saw-edged” (as the Library of Congress says in this entry in its “Fun Science Facts” series). (Notice I said “most,” because the reality is a bit more complex, as you’ll see here.)

Here is a Common Buckeye— a butterfly. Do you see the “clubs” on its antennae?

Here is a larger version of the photo:


The Painted Lady is also a butterfly, with notable “clubs” on her antennae:


Here, by contrast, is a moth— a Veined Ctenucha moth. Look at its antennae— “feathery” indeed!


So, that was my first revelation this summer— the striking difference between (most) moths and butterflies.

One response to “A summer of learning: How to tell butterflies from moths”

  1. […] first “wow” butterfly moment in the summer of 2015, described in Butterflies Part I, was really about butterflies and moths, and their […]


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