Lepidoptera: Moths, Butterflies and Skippers
Monarch Butterfly
Danaus plexippus
Red-banded Hairstreak
Calycopis cecrops
Sachem Skipper
Atalopedes campestris
Zabulon Skipper
Poanes zabulon


Some generalized statements can be made to distinguish butterflies from skippers from moths. But there are exceptions in most cases. Butterflies and skippers are found in butterfly field guides. They fly almost exclusively in daylight. Most moths are nocturnal but there are a few families with many daytime fliers. Butterflies and skippers have simple club-tipped antennae as seen above. The antennae of moths are varied and not club-tipped. They may be simple and unadorned or they may have pectinations jutting out to one side (pectinate) or two sides (bipectinate) as seen below. When at rest most butterflies hold their wings closed together above the body. Most skippers hold the hindwings nearly horizontal whith the forewings elevated to 30- or 45-degrees. See bottom of page for examples of moths at rest.

Rosy Maple Moth - bipectinate Acoloithus falsarius - bipectinate Yellow Flannel Moth - pectinate Grass-veneer Moth - simple



Monarch Butterfly
Danaus plexippus
Variegated Fritillary, Euptoieta claudia
Tom Murray
Cabbage White Butterfly
Pieris rapae
Western Tussock Moth
Joyce Gross


The pupa stage of butterflies is usually referred to as the chrysalis. They often seem like little jewels tied by silk to a twig, sometimes attached to a building. Moth pupae are often enclosed within silken cocoons and generally dull by comparison. They may be attached to the bark of a tree, hidden within a folded leaf, within leaf litter, or within a chamber excavated in the soil. Many, such as bagworms, pupate within a case built originally to protect the larvae. Still others pupate within stalks of plants or burrows in trees. The larva of a Western Tussock Moth, shown above, made a cocoon in which to pupate, but it was killed by developing larva of a parasitoid fly whose pupa is seen beside the corpse of the moth pupa.


Snowy Urola Moth
Urola nivalis
Orange-tufeted Oneida Moth
Oneida lunualis
Juniper-twig Geometer
Patalene olyzonaria
Scarlet-winged Lichen Moth
Hypoprepia miniata


At rest very few moths hold their wings together above the body. Some wrap them around the body, "tent" them in a downward V, or lay them flat upon the surface on which they rest with forewings covering the hindwings. But many moths rest with wings fully spread when resting.

Imperial Moth -- Eacles imperialis Red-bordered Emerial Moth -- Nemoria lixaria Horrid Zale Moth -- Zale horrida







MothTalk/MothTalk005.htm -- 01/15/2007