Most of us, at one time or another, have gone out catching butterflies, or have had the opportunities to keep caterpillars and watch them grow. It’s a classic primary school activity to document the life cycle of these beautiful insects. When I was working with children at the Bermuda Aquarium Museum and Zoo, a butterfly course was offered to teach children about butterflies and to allow them to take a caterpillar home. I was tasked with the collection of caterpillars and their food – I chose the Gulf Fritillary caterpillar, which looks rather like a punk-rocker of the caterpillar world with its deep orange colouring and impressive, gothic spikes. These caterpillars feed on the beautiful passion flower plant’s leaves. However, we found ourselves short of caterpillars for the children in the course, and resorted to giving out the caterpillars of moths instead!

I’m sure every insect-enthusiast has wondered, at some point, how to tell the difference between moths and butterflies. Doing so in their mature stage is significantly easier than doing so in their caterpillar stage! The guides below can give some insight in to the telling apart of both these members of Lepidoptera.

Butterflies

  • rest with their wings closed
  • are active during the day
  • have thin antennae

Moths

  • rest with their wings open
  • are active at night
  • have feathery antennae

Butterfly and moth caterpillars, on the other hand, are much more variant. The only way to tell them apart is to learn about what the specific caterpillars for both groups look like. However, butterflies have a few stages that they go through; egg, caterpillar, chrysalis, and finally, mature, adult, butterfly. It’s lucky that Bermuda is only home to seven prominent species of butterfly!

These include the Bermuda Buckeye (Junonia coenia bergi), Monarch (Danaus plexippus), Gulf Fritiliary (Agraulis vanillae), Cloudless Sulphur (Phoebis sennae), Cabbage White (Pieris rapae), Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta), and Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui). I have made a chart of the butterfly, caterpillar, chrysalis and food source which is pictured below:

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