Butterflies & Moths
Characteristics: Order Lepidoptera
This article describes the characteristics of the order Lepidoptera, the butterflies and moths.
Life Cycle of Butterflies and Moths
Butterflies and moths, all members of the order Lepidoptera, undergo complete metamorphosis with four stages - egg, larve, pupa, and adult. In each of these four life cycle stages, the insect looks and behaves quite differently from the others.
How to Tell the Difference Between a Butterfly and a Moth
Butterfly or moth? Learn how to tell the difference.
How to Keep a Caterpillar
Want to raise a caterpillar you've collected? Here are tips for housing, feeding, and caring for a caterpillar in captivity.
10 Cool Facts About Caterpillars
How much do you really know about caterpillars? Here are 10 cool facts about caterpillars.
The Six Butterfly Families
Identifying butterflies begins with learning the six butterfly families. The first five families – swallowtails, brush-foots, whites and sulphurs, gossamer-wings, and metalmarks – are called the true butterflies. The last group, the skippers, are sometimes considered separate from the butterflies.
Brush-Footed Butterflies, Family Nymphalidae
Brush-footed butterflies include a variety of common butterflies, including monarchs, admirals, anglewings, and fritillaries. Learn the identifying features of butterflies in the family Nymphalidae.
Skippers, Family Hesperiidae
About one-third of all North American butterflies belong to the family Hesperiidae, the skippers. These small butterflies fly fast, and can be mistaken for day-flying moths. Learn the habits and traits of skippers.
Swallowtails and Parnassians, Family Papilionidae
The butterfly family Papilionidae consists of the familiar swallowtails and the uncommon parnassians. Learn which key traits they share as members of this group.
Whites, Orange-Tips, Sulphurs, and Yellows - Family Pieridae
The word butterfly probably first referred to the yellows that belong to the family Pieridae. This group of medium-sized butterflies includes the whites, yellows, oranges, sulphurs, dogfaces, and orange-tips, many of which are quite common in backyard gardens.
Why Do Butterflies Gather Around Puddles?
Butterflies can't get all their nutrients from nectar. They need to drink from mud puddles, too. Here's why.
If You Touch a Butterfly's Wings, Can It Still Fly?
Many people believe that if you touch a butterfly's wings, it will no longer be able to fly, and will die. Is this true or not?
Stinging caterpillars use poison-filled bristles to defend themselves from predators. If you touch a stinging caterpillar, you'll know it by the burning, itching, or just plain painful sensation that follows. These pictures will help you learn to recognize stinging caterpillars - before you touch them.
Clearwing Moths, Family Sesiidae
Clearwing moths (Family Sesiidae) mimic bees or wasps in both their look and their behavior. Their larvae are borers, pests of many trees and some garden crops. Learn the traits and behaviors of clearwing moths.
Giant Silkworm Moths and Royal Moths, Family Saturniidae
The family Saturniidae includes our biggest, showiest moths: luna moths, cecropia moths, polyphemus moths, imperial moths, io moths, promethea moths, and royal walnut moths. Learn more about these monster moths, their unique traits, and their special behaviors.
Geometer Moths, Inchworms, and Loopers - Family Geometridae
Learn the habits and traits of geometer moths, family Geometridae. Their larvae are known as loopers, inchworms, or spanworms.
Owlet Moths, Family Noctuidae
The owlet moths (Family Noctuidae) are the largest family in the entire order of butterflies and moths. A group this large is diverse, as you would expect, but all owlet moths do share certain common traits.
Sphinx Moths, Family Sphingidae
Members of the family Sphingidae, the sphinx moths, attract attention with their large size and ability to hover. Gardeners and farmers will recognize their larvae as the pesky hornworms that can wipe out a crop in a matter of days.
Bagworm (Thyridopteryx ephemeraeformis)
Bagworm is not a worm, but a moth whose larvae disguise themselves in bags made from bits of foliage. A native pest of North America, bagworm infests popular landscape evergreens like arborvitae and junipers.
Black Swallowtail (Papilio polyxenes)
The Black Swallowtail, one of North America’s most common butterflies, frequently visits backyard gardens. This article is a profile of the Black Swallowtail, Papilio polyxenes.
Eastern Tent Caterpillar (Malacosoma americanum)
Eastern tent caterpillars are best recognized by their characteristic silken tents in the crotches of cherry and apple trees. These moth larvae may be confused with another spring caterpillar, the gypsy moth, or by another tent builder, the fall webworm. Get to know the eastern tent caterpillars characteristics and habits.
Fall Webworm (Hyphantria cunea)
Fall webworm, a moth native to North America, produces unsightly silk tents on hardwood trees. The fall webworm larvae live communally in their tents, where they feed and grow.
Gypsy Moth (Lymantria dispar)
The World Conservation Union ranks the gypsy moth, Lymantria dispar, on its list of "100 of the World's Most Invasive Alien Species." Accidentally introduced to the U.S. in the late 1860's, the gypsy moth now consumes a million acres of forest each year, on average.
Monarch Butterfly (Danaus plexippus)
The Monarch butterfly, familiar to nearly everyone in North America, depends on milkweed plants for caterpillars to eat. The orange and black butterflies are best known for their seasonal migrations to and from Mexico.
What Do Monarch Butterflies Eat?
Monarch butterflies in North America make their way to Mexico each winter, a migration of some 2,000 miles. What do monarch butterflies eat?
How Do Monarchs Know When to Migrate?
Monarchs east of the Rocky Mountains migrate to Mexico each fall. Did you ever wonder how the monarchs know when it's time to migrate?
10 Threats to Monarch Migration
Although monarch butterflies are not endangered, scientists worry their record-breaking migration may be threatened by human activities. Learn 10 threats to monarch migration.
5 Things You Can Do To Help Monarchs Make a Comeback
The monarch butterfly's North American migration is at risk, thanks to habitat loss, pesticide use, and other human impacts. Here are 5 things you can do to help monarchs make a comeback.
Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui)
The Painted Lady inhabits backyards and meadows throughout most of the world, and is the most widespread butterfly species. Schoolchildren often recognize this butterfly, as raising these butterflies is a popular science activity in elementary classrooms.
7 Fascinating Facts About Painted Lady Butterflies
Are you raising painted lady butterflies in your elementary school classroom? Do these familiar butterflies visit your yard? Here are 7 fascinating facts about painted ladies.
Silver-Spotted Skipper (Epargyreus clarus)
The silver-spotted skipper is a common resident of fields, meadows, parks, and gardens. With it's brown wings and quick flight from flower to flower, it's often overlooked for slower, brighter butterflies.
Why You Shouldn't Plant Butterfly Bush
Planting a butterfly garden? Don't plant butterfly bush! Learn why butterfly bush is bad, and what you can plant instead of butterfly bush.
12 Perennials That Butterflies Love
Want to bring butterflies to your backyard? Butterflies need good sources of nectar, and these twelve perennials are butterfly favorites. If you plant it, they will come.
10 Cool Facts About Butterflies
Everyone is familiar with butterflies, but how much do you really know about these insects? Here are 10 cool facts about butterflies.
Butterflies and Moths of North America
A complete resource for anyone interested in the order Lepidoptera as it occurs in North America. The site includes images, species accounts, and maps with reported occurrences of moths and butterflies.
Host Plants for the Butterfly Garden
Include caterpillar host plants in your butterfly garden, and you'll attract a lot more butterflies as they visit your plants to lay eggs. Here's a list of butterflies likely to visit your garden, and the host plants you'll need to support their caterpillars.
What Do Caterpillars Eat?
Caterpillars are the larvae of butterflies and moths. What do caterpillars eat?
Sawfly Larva or Caterpillar?
Are you sure you're looking at a caterpillar? Sawfly larvae look very similar to caterpillars. There's one easy way to tell them apart - count their legs.
List of Butterfly Houses in the U.S.
Want to see hundreds of colorful butterflies up close? Visit your nearest butterfly house. These butterfly exhibits let you walk through an indoor garden designed just for butterflies and showy moths. If you're lucky, one might even land on you.
Prepare for a Visit to a Butterfly House
Thinking of visiting a butterfly house? This article will help you understand the butterfly behaviors you observe. Also, I'll give you tips for getting a butterfly to land on you, and for how to take better photographs at the butterfly exhibit.
Sugaring for Moths
Sugaring for moths is an effective way to collect moth specimens for a preservation or photography. Learn how to make and apply your own sugar bait to attract moths.
Non-Invasive Buddleia for the Butterfly Garden
New hybrids of butterfly bush offer plenty of flowers for butterflies, but don't require deadheading. Read about these non-invasive cultivars of Buddleia.