Skippers, Moths and Other Flutterbys

Hiking in the backcountry and a pattern-winged insect lands on your arm. Quick – is it a skipper, a moth, or a butterfly? Can’t tell the difference? Read on!

What is it? (Photo: Megan Kopp)

Knobs, hooks and plumes – that’s how you can quickly tell the difference between each species. Yes, your antennae are helping you focus on the right answer.

There are drab butterflies and colorful moths and everything in between for skippers. Wing pattern isn’t a sure-fire identification guide, but antennae shape sure is.

Check out the differences:

  • Moths have thread- or plume-like antennae. No knobs or hooks here.
  • Butterflies have knobs at the end of their antennae.
  • Skippers have knobs that often have hook-like ends.

Did you know?

  • Moths, butterflies and skippers are all members of the Lepidoptera order.
  • Lepidoptera means ‘scaly wings’.
  • Butterflies like daytime heat, moths shiver to stay warm at night.
  • Skippers and butterflies rest with their wings held more upward or vertical; moths hold wings flat or pitched like a roof when at rest.
  • Moth species outnumber skipper and butterfly species by almost ten to one.

So what is the insect in the picture above?

Rule out moth, it doesn’t have thread- or plume-like antennae.

Is it a skipper or butterfly?

This checkerspot is a… wait for it… butterfly!

© 2011

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