Forest Preserve District of Cook County, Illinois
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Moths and Butterflies
Nature Bulletin No. 192-A   May 15, 1965
Forest Preserve District of Cook County
Seymour Simon, President
Roland F. Eisenbeis, Supt. of Conservation

Moths and butterflies include some of the largest and some of the most beautiful insects, as well as some quite small and many of the most harmful. There are approximately 80, 000 species -- more in the tropical regions than elsewhere -- and far more moths than butterflies. Of about 10,000 that occur in America north of Mexico, only about 600 are butterflies, including a few that range north of the Arctic Circle. In the next two bulletins we shall endeavor to make you acquainted with some of our most common or spectacular kinds.

Moths and butterflies have four scaly wings. If you handle them, what appears to be dust comes off on your fingers. These dust particles are minute scales, each a flattened hollow bristle with fine ridges on the upper side. It is the pigments in these scales, which on many butterflies and moths cover each wing like overlapping shingles on a roof, that produce the colors and markings. Metallic iridescent colors are due to the reflection or refraction of light by the tiny ridges. In some cases, generally the males, certain scales are outlets for scent glands producing an odor which, when perceptible to humans, has a musky or flower-like fragrance.

Moths and butterflies -- except some kinds which do not eat at all during their short lives as adults -- differ from other insects by having a long thread-like hollow sucking-tube through which fluids, such as nectar from flowers, can be pumped up and which, when not in use, is coiled up like a watch spring in front of and beneath the head. Some of the hawk or sphinx moths have tongues over 6 inches long, more than twice the length of their bodies. Moths and butterflies have two large compound eyes, each of which has thousands of facets. Between them are two conspicuous antennae. All butterflies have thread-like antennae, each with a knob or club-like thickening at the tip. The antennae of many moths are plum-like; others are like combs; others are thread-like, sometimes curving backward near the end, but only in rare cases is there a knob at the tip.

There are other differences between moths and butterflies which hold true in most cases. All of our butterflies fly only in daytime. A few tropical butterflies and most moths fly at night or twilight, some of them seldom before midnight, and are attracted by lights. However, some moths fly only in daytime; some in both daytime and night-time; in some species only the female flies in daytime. Butterflies at rest, with few exceptions, fold their wings together in a vertical position above the back. Moths at rest either wrap their wings around the body, or spread them out horizontally, or fold them roof-like over the abdomen. Only a few kinds of moths fold them in a vertical position when at rest.

All moths and butterflies, being insects, have six legs although the two front legs of some are small and useless. But there is one thing they all have in common: they lay eggs which hatch into crawling larvae called caterpillars, which eventually change into helpless pupae -- some in cocoons and some not -- from which emerge the winged adults.

Many moths and butterflies are beneficial because they insure the pollination of favored plants by carrying pollen from one flower to another as they visit them to drink the nectar. And everyone has heard about the silkworm moth of Asia. None of our American butterflies is seriously harmful except the white Cabbage Butterfly which was accidentally introduced into this country and Canada from Europe. But among the moths, in their larval stage, are many of our most destructive pests. One of these, the little Clothes Moth, probably plagued our ancestors when they wore nothing but animal skins.

We have provided them with "a more abundant life. "

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