Butterflies and Moths

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Butterflies and Moths

Have you ever sat and watched butterflies flying around? Do you have a garden to attract butterflies? Or are you just interested in butterflies or moths? Have you ever thought about the differences and similarities between butterflies and moths? Both butterflies and moths have the scientific name Lepidoptera, which means scaly-winged. If you touch a butterfly or moth's wings dust well come off on your hand. This dust is made up of tiny scales.

Butterflies and moths are mostly a lot alike, but there are some ways to distinguish between the two. Butterflies have a brighter color than moths and are active during the daytime. Moths become active at night being attracted to lights. The color of moths is softer. The body of a moth is thicker and has more hair. A moth that is resting pulls one front set of wings up to met the other hind wings while a butterfly will rest with wings spread out. Butterflies have eyes that are sensitive to color causing them to be attracted to bright flowers. Moths are attracted to light colored flowers since a lot of night flowers are white.

Moths fly in late evening, at night, or in the early morning hours. In the daytime, they rest in bushes or other hidden places. Butterflies are day fliers and night sleepers liking sunlight to look for meals. The two fly differently as a moth does a buzz flight making it hard to make out its wings. A butterfly flies in long glides.

A moth's antennas are thicker than butterfly antennas and have hair- like fringe. Butterfly antennas have no fringe and are thick at the tip where moths are thick at the start of the antenna. The butterfly antenna is curved at the tip and slender where it meets the head where a moths is not. Moths have thick bodies in proportion and length that are wedge-shaped and broad close to the front. Their bodies have hair scales that are long and thick. Butterflies have more slender bodies with short hair scales.

Butterflies hold their wings upright when flying bringing them close together over the back.. Moths do not take this flying position with their wings. Moths will hold their wings straight out and tilt them backwards a little. Moths need to be camouflaged to rest in the day. Therefore, moths have wings to look more like tree bark to hide them from predators.

However, there are a lot of similarities between the two. Both have antennas located on the head and referred to as feelers. Both butterflies and moths go through four life cycle stages. The first life cycle stage is an egg. Females alight on plants that the young will later need for food to lay eggs. When the eggs hatch a worm-like creature is revealed called larvae or another words a caterpillar. These larvae are hungry and busy creatures. At this time they can eat twice their weight in leaves in a single day. After several days of feeding, butterflies and moths outgrow their skin causing them to molt. In molting, the skin is split and a butterfly or moth crawls out. Molting can take place as many as five times in this second stage. The third stage is a resting stage called pupa. Caterpillars have different ways of pupating. Moth caterpillars burrow down in the ground or hide in the shade of bark or hollowed logs. Butterflies and moths will sometimes rest in cocoons made spinning thread from their mouths. All the pupa does for as much as two weeks is rest. In this stage the pupa will turn into a full-grown moth are butterfly. The last stage is when the caterpillar reaches adult form and emerges from the cocoon wet and shaky. In order to dry its wings blood flows in the veins then the butterfly or moth flutters them. It can take several hours to dry wings and afterwords they fly off to live in the fourth stage the adult stage.

Both moths and butterflies have the following good senses: sight, smell, and taste. Some moths can hear as well. The taste organs for both are located in the mouth. Organs for smell are located mostly on antennas for both species. Both have scents used for two purposes. One scent appeals to the opposite sex while the other is used to run off enemies. Scales on the hind wings give off these scents. Male butterflies give of scents of flowers are spices while female butterflies give off an unpleasant scent from special glands.

Butterfly taste organs are really sensitive to sweet taste causing flower nectar to be one of their main foods. When butterflies locate nectar they uncoil long and hollow tongues to suck in the sugar solution. Some butterflies and moths have been known to migrate. With butterflies thousands will migrate together.

Both species have a lot of enemies. Wasps can lay eggs inside a butterfly or moth's eggs and their larvae then feed on the eggs. When either species is at the caterpillar stage of course birds or bats are enemies. Flies and wasps can also take over caterpillars and live inside. And of course humans kill caterpillars when they get into their gardens and such.

Leaves and fruit become food for caterpillars in both species at this stage. A moth however will chew on silk or wool and make holes in it where a butterfly will not. Moths also dine on fur, as butterflies do not.

Both butterflies and moths have wings covered with soft and tiny scales that overlap. Scales can also be found on the body and legs these scales being longer like hairs. Scales make for stronger wings for both species and give color to their wings. Both have four wings and six legs.

Butterfly and moth bodies are separated into three parts: the head, middle called thorax, and the stomach or abdomen. Two large eyes take up a lot of the head for both. The eyes have many lenses and the round shape allows eyes to look in all directions at one time. The head has the feeding tubes or tongue. It is like putting two half tubes together to make a whole tube. A bulb within the tube on the inside end allows the sucking action to take in nectar. Muscles squeeze the bulb in order for liquid to go down the throat. When not in use a butterfly or moth coils the tube up like a spring. Feelers are located between the eyes giving them their good sense of smell.

Behind the head is the thorax where wings and legs grow from. Both have three sections each with a pair of legs. The middle section is an anchor for the front wings. Rear wings are attached to the last section of the butterfly or moth. The legs are made in five parts. Two close to the body called universal joints, which move in all directions. Next, a thick long section like our thigh. Onward to a tibia and finally the tarsus to bring the tibia together with a short jointed foot. Each leg is unique, but they all have tiny spurs to assist in holding onto a flower.

Butterflies and moths have lines of hard double tubes known as veins. An inner tube is filled with air and an outer tube carries blood yellow or green in color. Small skin layers on both sides connect and cover wings. This skin allows them to fly as it supports them as air presses against their wings. Neither one has a heart or a brain. Blood is pushed through small fast shivering tubes that move blood through the veins. Other tubes form a network letting air go in and out referred to as spiracles. These are located on the side of the body. Butterflies and moths both have a lot of nerves that run lengthwise on their lower body. The largest of these nerve bunches is found on the head and it connects the optic nerve to the eye. Butterflies are not good at long distance vision but have sharp close range vision. Moths must be able to see better as they fly around at night.

Both have lots of muscles and the largest is located in the thorax to move legs and wings. Since neither species has any bones chitin (a liquid) covers the muscles and inside parts to harden and make a protective coat. Both go through three stages before flying: egg, larvae, and pupa. Their lives begin in tiny eggs and they have breathing holes above legs on both sides. Having no bones makes them both invertebrates, too. Now, when you sit looking at butterflies are moths you will know the differences and similarities. And can most likely be able to tell them apart but some different species of moths look more like butterflies than others.

More about this author: Tracy Bishop

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