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Moths or butterflies?

Working in the wildflower garden this weekend, trying to maintain control of the weeds, I noticed a wide variety of butterflies, moths and other insects taking advantage of the early blooms.  

Each plant in the garden had been picked for its value to hummingbirds, butterflies and other birds and insects.

I am often asked to explain the difference between butterflies and moths, which differ in habits and body structure.  

You will see butterflies mainly in the daytime and moths at night, but this general rule does not hold true for all butterflies and moths.

The best way to determine moth or butterfly is to look closely at its two antennae or “feelers.† If they are clubbed, you can be quite sure you have a butterfly.  Moths generally have feathery or threadlike antennae.

 Moths and butterflies belong to the order Lepidoptera, meaning scale-winged.  Their delicate wings are covered with thousands of minute scales that overlap like shingles on a house.  The arrangement of scales reflects a variety of colors through the translucent membranes between the wing veins.  The scales on a moth are erratic, often thin and hairy. A butterfly’s wing scales are more uniform and smooth.

When resting, a butterfly usually holds its wings closed and upright over its slender back. The moth rests with its wings stretched flat or folded over and around its plump back.  

Many types of moth larvae or “caterpillars†make cocoons from which, after a time, they emerge as adult moths. Butterflies do not make cocoons.

A mature butterfly larvae tends to make a chrysalis in which to grow.  The chrysalis is attached to a plant for several weeks while the larvae inside begins to develop into a butterfly.

 Planting native flowering plants and shrubs to attract birds and butterflies is a great way to bring nature to you. Adding benches to these backyard landscapes will enable you and your family to observe this wildlife close-up.

A hummingbird feeder adds the final touches to your backyard observatory. You can make your own nectar-like solution. Just bring one part sugar to four parts water to a boil to dissolve the sugar. Red coloring is not needed.

When planting for birds and butterflies, it is essential to avoid nonnative invasive plants. To learn more about the problems these plants pose for our landscape, visit the Academy Building in Salisbury up to June 25 for the Salisbury Land Trust’s exhibit focusing on 12 of the most problematic nonnative invasive plants in the Northwest Corner — The Dirty Dozen.


Scott Heth is the director of Audubon Sharon and can be reached at sheth@audubon.org, (subject line: Nature Notes).

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