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Mistaken for butterflies

Many people consider moths to be ugly and even repellent, but they are simply butterflies adapted to nocturnal life and therefore different in appearance from their diurnal relatives. Contrary to popular belief, not all moths are greyish or brownish, there are many species of colored moths that are sometimes mistaken for butterflies. 1)

90% of all butterfly species are moths

Almost 90% of all butterfly species are moths and the fact that they were the first to appear on Earth and only through millions of years of evolution did they give rise to a line of diurnal butterflies. 2)

Share common features

The scientific classification does not separate moths from butterflies, as they share common features. They differ from them in some elements of structure and their mostly nocturnal mode of life. 3)

160,000 species

Of the 180,000 butterfly species, as many as 160,000 are moths. Most of them lead a nocturnal lifestyle, but there are also species active before sunrise and after sunset and species active during the day. 4)

190 million years back

The oldest fossils of moths date back 190 million years and belong to the species Archaeolepis mane. Interestingly, moths also appeared earlier than the first flowers, so they must have fed on food other than flower nectar. It is likely that their food was conifer pollen. 5)


Although it is difficult to determine the anatomical differences between butterflies and moths, one criterion is the structure of their antennae. The antennae of moths are usually hairy and pointed, while butterflies have thin and smooth antennae with a thickened tip. 6)

Massive and hairy

The body of moths is usually massive and covered with hairs. This structure is supposed to protect these nocturnal insects from excessive heat loss. Butterflies are slender and their body cover is smooth. 7)

Superposition eyes

Moths have compound superposition eyes composed of fewer ommatidia (eye segments). This type of eye transmits more light, but the image it presents is less clear. 8)

Caterpillar stage

Like butterflies, moths go through a caterpillar stage before reaching the adult form. When they move to the pupa stage, most moths produce a cocoon of silk while most butterfly caterpillars build their cocoons from hardened proteins. 9)

Spreads wings parallel to the ground

The resting moth spreads its wings parallel to the ground or keeps them folded and attached to its body. 10)

Flying around artificial light sources

Most moths have a strange tendency to fly around artificial light sources. The reason for this behavior is still unknown; one hypothesis is that the moths coordinate their flight relative to the moon's disk, which allows them to fly straight. When they mistake the moonlight for an artificial light source they are forced to circle it so that it is always in the same position relative to their body. 11)

Important role as pollinators

Some species of moths have an important role as pollinators. This is true, for example, of the Erebidae and Sphingidae species, which are key plant pollinators in Himalayan ecosystems. 12)


Due to their lifestyle, moths most often fall prey to bats, owls and nightjars. To avoid being caught by predators, they use various techniques such as camouflage, mimicry and evasion. 13)

The largest wingspan

The moth Thysania Agrippina has one of the largest wingspans of all moths. 14)

Skull-like pattern

Some moths have a distinctive skull-like pattern on their upper bodies. They come from the genus Acherontia and inhabit almost every area on Earth. 15)

moths.txt · Last modified: 2021/11/01 19:31 by rapidplatypus