Butterflies and moths are part of the second largest insect order, called Lepidoptera (“scale wings”). Scientists estimate that there are approximately 15,000 species of butterflies, and 250,000 species of moths, and still more to be discovered. In the United States and Canada, there are more than 750 species of butterflies and 11,000 species of moths.1

Although butterflies and moths are both lepidopterans, there are several general characteristics that differentiate them.


  • Butterflies rest with their wings closed, folded above their bodies.
  • Moths rest with their wings open, spread out on either side of their bodies.


  • Butterflies are usually brightly coloured and patterned.
  • Moths are usually dully coloured and tend to be less obvious.

Time of Day

  • Butterflies are most active during the daytime.
  • Moths are most active during the night.


  • Butterflies have long skinny antennae with little knots at the end.
  • Moths have shorter feathery antennae.2


  • Butterflies spend the pupa stage in a hard chrysalis, without spinning any silk.
  • Moths spend the pupa stage in a soft cocoon of spun silk.



  1. ”The Life Cycle” Victoria Butterfly Gardens. http://www.butterflygardens.com/butterflies.php
  2. Ibid.