Butterflies, moths, skippers, oh my?

Editor’s note: This article is from the archives of the MSU Crop Advisory Team Alerts. Check the label of any pesticide referenced to ensure your use is included.

What’s a butterfly? What’s a moth? What’s the difference? And what the heck is a skipper? Here’s the low down:

Butterflies

  • Antennae: long, thread-like, with a knobby-bit at the end
  • Wings: At rest, held together up over the body (rarely extended flat to bask in the sun)
  • Habits: Active on sunny days. Often seen on flowers or around puddles
  • Examples: Monarch butterfly, swallowtails, sulphurs (yellow butterflies common at puddles in the summer)

Moths – many common pest species

  • Antennae: usually combed, plumy, or featherlike. Never knobbed.
  • Wings: Held out flat, or wrapped down or around body.
  • Habits: Most are nocturnal. Fly at night, may come to lights.
  • Examples: Cecropia, sphinx moths (hold wings flat); European corn borer, Indianmeal moth, gypsy moth (fold wings back or around body

Skippers – are a type of butterfly

  • Antennae: Long, thread-like, with a hook at the end. (I like to describe it as a banana.)
  • Wings: At rest, held together up over the body.
  • Habits: Active on sunny days. Often seen on flowers.
  • Examples: European skipper; silver spotted skipper (pretty caterpillar with a huge head is sometimes found in rolled up soybean leaves).

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