Butterflies & Moths (Lepidoptera)

Greek "lepido" (scales) + "ptera" (wings)
Lepidoptera is the second largest insect order, after beetles. They have large wings that are covered with tiny scales, often in bright colors and patterns. The larvae of moths and butterflies are nearly always called caterpillars, and they have chewing mouthparts and a well-developed head. Caterpillars primarily eat plants, and are among the most destructive insects in forests and agriculture. Adult butterflies and moths have a coiled tongue-like tube called a proboscis that is used to suck nectar from flowers as through a straw. Butterflies tend to be more brightly colored than moths, and have knobs or hooks at the end of their antennae. They are active during the day. When they are not flying, butterflies hold their wings together straight up over their bodies. Moths have feathery or thread-like antennae, are generally nocturnal, and their wings at rest are held horizontally, or folded around the body.

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California Oak Moth
© 2006 Joyce Gross
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Grapevine Sphinx Moth
T. W. Davies © 1999 California Academy of Sciences
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Ceanothus Silk Moth
T. W. Davies © 1999 California Academy of Sciences
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Bay Checkerspot Butterfly
T. W. Davies © 1999 California Academy of Sciences
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Monarch Butterfly
T. W. Davies © 1999 California Academy of Sciences
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Monarch Butterfly Larva
© 2003 Joyce Gross

Quick ID

  • Coiled sucking "tongue"
  • Four wings, covered with scales

More information about Lepidoptera

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Last updated: Jan 2, 2017