The order Lepidoptera is large, with around 150,000 species in the world and over 2,500 in Britain. The order is commonly (but artificially) divided into butterflies, macro-moths and micro-moths, although many of the micro's are actually larger than some of the smaller macro's.


Lepidoptera have two pairs of wings clothed in scales, but the females of some moths have only vestigial (reduced) wings and are therefore flightless. The majority of Lepidopteran species feed on nectar and other fluids by sucking them up through a tube known as the proboscis. The proboscis is coiled under the head when not in use. In contrast to this, some of the more ancient (least evolved) species such as the small moths in the genus Micropterix have jaws and feed on pollen. Other species, including some of the hawk-moths and tiger moths do not feed in the adult stage and have no functional mouthparts.


Although the British butterflies are day-flying and are often differentiated by their clubbed antennae, the antennae of some moths, including the burnet moths, are also clubbed.  Although most moths are nocturnal, there are as many British moths to be found flying during the day as there are butterflies. 


Lack of colour is certainly not a way to distinguish the moths as many are just as colourful as the brightest of butterflies. The Orange Moth Angerona prunaria is the colour of orange peel, the Large Emerald Geometra papilionaria is brilliant green and many of the micro-moths are iridescent.

'Glossary' opens an extra window


Lepidoptera introduction

Page 1     Page 2    Page 3