Butterflies (and Skippers) are the quintessential summertime insect across the United States, representing 760 complete identified species while a full 12,000 are known to roam North America and around 165,000 have been categorized worldwide. Moths are similar creatures and their differences abound but all of these insects fall under the Lepidoptera order. Some of the similarities between Butterflies and Moths are their scale-like hairs covering their bodies and delivering their various patterns and colors that we see on the wings. Nearly all known species of each insect long, coiled tongues known as a proboscis which allows them to easily extract nectar and pollen (as well as other sources of food, depending on the species).
All Lepidopterans begin life as eggs (individually or in groups) laid by a female. The egg produces larva commonly known as caterpillars. The caterpillar matures through a complete metamorphosis and emerges in its adult form. The cycle is then repeated in future generations ensuring survival of the species. Moths will cocoon in secure locations, sometimes even in soil, while Butterflies pupate out in the open, suspended, by silk, upside down from a tree or similar structure. Caterpillars are quite different from their winged counterparts as they crawl by nature and do not fly. Instead of sucking mouthparts, caterpillars have chewing mouth parts and their heads contain simple eyes and antennae. Thoracic legs are at the front of the body while anterior prolegs bring up the rear of the segmented body. Caterpillars survive with a diet of live plants, dried fruits and human foods. Some species are predatory and hunt other insects, and others digest animal byproducts (i.e. wool). While generally slow moving when crawling and ripe for predation, caterpillars usually maintain some form of inherent defense mechanisms that make them unsuitable for eating and, in some cases, even handling. Some caterpillar species are also known to spin silk from their spinnerets on their labium.
Identifying different types of Butterflies and Moths involves some detective skills. Butterflies are noted for their long thin antenna which have what appear to be clubs at their ends but Skippers feature similar protrusions except for hooked ends on the antennae. Moth antennas come in two styles – the traditional long, thin, straight antenna and a similar more “featured” version. In a Butterfly, the forewing and hindwing are not connected whereas in a Moth, these wingparts are joined. While Butterflies stay active during the day, moth species can be active during the day or at night and, when at rest, a Butterfly will stand its wings vertically or spread them open whereas Moths rest them at the sides of their bodies.