Alice Springs Fauna •
Butterflies and moths are known collectively as lepidopterans, belonging to the order Lepidoptera, in the class Insecta. Alice Springs is home to a great variety of butterflies and moths. As well as the winged adult species, keep an eye out for the various instar stages including caterpillar and pupa/chrysalis.
Many online resources often group moths and butterflies together, however moths outnumber butterflies in both numbers and species. In Australia alone, there are over 10,500 species of moths, compared with about 400 species of butterflies. Whilst there are very few species of butterflies yet to be discovered, in Australia there is estimated to be at least another 10,000 species yet to be discovered, studied and named.
Whilst there are some rules for distinguishing between moths and butterflies, they are not well established. One guiding principle to distinguish between the two, is that butterflies have thin antennae and (with the exception of the family Hedylidae) have small balls or clubs at the end of their antennae. Moth antennae are usually feathery with no ball on the end. The divisions are named by this principle: “club-antennae” (Rhopalocera) or “varied-antennae” (Heterocera). Lepidoptera differs between butterflies and other organisms due to evolving a special characteristic of having the tube-like proboscis in the Middle Triassic which allowed them to acquire nectar from flowering plants.1
Butterflies and moths have a number of differences, although there are exceptions to the rules. The main differences include:
- Butterflies are active during the day, whilst moths are usually active at night (although there are plenty of moths that you may see during the day).
- Butterflies have knobs at the end of their antennae; moths have antennae without knobs at the end.
- Butterflies are usually brightly coloured; moths are usually dull (although there are a number of brightly coloured moths).
- Butterflies rest with their wings held vertically; moths rest with their wings flat (although there are some moths that are mistaken for butterflies).
The following Day Flying Moth (Comocrus behri) seen here feeding on Red-capped Gum (Eucalyptus erythrocorys) in Alice Springs, is often mistaken for a butterfly.
Check out some of the references below for some great information on butterflies and moths.
- Scientific classification
- Kingdom: Animalia
- Phylum: Arthropoda
- Class: Insecta
- Order: Lepidoptera
Footnote & References
- Moth, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moth (last visited Feb. 8, 2022)
- Butterfly, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Butterfly (last visited Feb. 13, 2022)
- Families of Moths in Australia, by Don Herbison-Evans and Stella Crossley, Coffs Harbour Butterfly House, http://lepidoptera.butterflyhouse.com.au/moths.html
- Australian Moths Online, CSIRO, https://moths.csiro.au/
- Moths, butterflies and skippers: Order Lepidoptera, Australian Museum, https://australian.museum/learn/animals/insects/moths-butterflies-and-skippers-order-lepidoptera/
- What are the differences between butterflies and moths? Australian Museum, https://australian.museum/learn/animals/insects/what-are-the-differences-between-butterflies-and-moths/
- Butterflies Australia, https://www.butterflies.org.au/
- Butterflies of Australia, Australian Caterpillars and their Butterflies and Moths, Coffs Harbour Butterfly House, http://lepidoptera.butterflyhouse.com.au/butter.html
- BOIC, Butterfly & Other Invertebrates Club, https://boic.org.au/
- Butterflies and Moths, iNaturalistAU, https://inaturalist.ala.org.au/taxa/47157-Lepidoptera
- Australian Butterfly Sanctuary, https://australianbutterflies.com/
- 8 Differences Between Butterflies and Moths, Australian Butterfly Sanctuary, https://australianbutterflies.com/8-differences-between-butterflies-and-moths/