The term Lepidoptera, which means “scaled wings” refers to butterflies and moths. Butterflies and moths are arthropods and insects. The special characteristics that make an insect a member of the Order Lepidoptera are:

  • 4 large, showy wings
  • Scales on the wings
  • Sucking mouthparts (in those species which eat as adults)
  • Large compound eyes in adults
  • Complete metamorphosis

There are several differences between butterflies and moths, but all of these generalizations have exceptions! The main differences include:


  • Antennae:  Antennae are clubbed or hooked.
  • Activity:  Butterflies are usually most active during the day (diurnal). Some butterflies most active at dawn and dusk (crepuscular) instead of during the heat of the day.
  • Coloration:  Most butterflies are brightly colored.
  • Body Size:  Butterfly bodies are generally smooth and slender.
  • Pupa:  Butterflies pupate in a chrysalis (chrysalides, plural). Butterflies do not form cocoons.
  • Wing Morphology:  Wings are not hooked together.
  • Wings at Rest:  Wings are generally held vertically over body at rest. (However, when butterflies are basking in the sun, their wings are held outstretched at sides.)

Moth Anatomy


  • Antennae:  Antennae are either feathery, or pointed. There is no hook or club on the end.
  • Activity: Most moths are active during the night (nocturnal).
  • Coloration:  Most moths have dull brownish or gray coloration.
  • Body Size:  Moth bodies are generally thicker and “furry” looking.
  • Pupa:  Moth pupa are often enclosed within a silken cocoon. (Some moths incorporate leaves into the cocoon.) The cocoon itself is NOT the pupa! The caterpillar makes the cocoon and then pupates inside it. Some moth caterpillars bury themselves in the soil and pupate underground. These moths do not make cocoons to protect the pupa.
  • Wing Morphology:  Forewing and hindwing on each side is coupled with a “hook.”
  • Wings at Rest:  In most moths, wings are held horizontally or chevron-like with hindwings covered at rest.

Common Butterflies

There are approximately 20,000 species of butterflies in the world. About 725 species have occurred in North American north of Mexico, with about 575 of these occurring regularly in the lower 48 states of the United States, and with about 275 species occurring regularly in Canada.




Below is a list of field guides that would be very helpful to identify your butterflies bees & moths.


Painted Lady

Common Buckeye



Common Wood Nymph

Common Moths

North American moths represent about 12,000 different types of moths. In comparison, there are about 825 species of North American butterflies.

Cecropia Moth

Hummingbird Moth

Luna Moth

Tiger Moth

woolly bear caterpillar

Sphinx Moth

Codling Moth


Bees can be divided into two groups by their lifestyles: solitary or social. Despite the fact that the stereotypical image is of a bee living in a hive, only a few species of bees are social. Social bees share a nest, and divide the work of building the nest, caring for the offspring, and foraging for pollen and nectar. The principal social bees are the honey bee (not native to the U.S.) and the bumble bees (about forty-five species in the U.S.).

In contrast, the vast majority of bees, nearly four thousand species in the U.S., are solitary nesting. They tend to create and provision a nest on their own, without cooperation with other bees. Although they often will nest together in great numbers when a good nesting area is found, the bees are only sharing a good nesting site (like people wanting to live in a beautiful, lakeside location!) and not cooperating.

Most people think of bees as fat bumble bees or swarms of honey bees, or confuse them with yellow jackets, and have a fear of being stung. In fact, it is only the bees that live in a colony or hive (“social bees,” i.e., honey bees and bumble bees) that are likely to sting, because they have a colony to defend. Native social bees do not defend their hive aggressively. Of the forty-five species of bumble bees in the U.S., only about four have a feisty nature. In contrast to social bees, almost all of our native bees live on their own (“solitary-nesting”) and do not defend their nests. When foraging away from the nest, no bee is looking for conflict and will only sting as a last resort–perhaps as a result of being swatted or squashed, or accidentally being caught in someone’s clothes.

Honey Bees

Honey bees, although one of the most popular bees, represent only a small percent of bee species. Honey bees are the only surviving group of bees from the Apini tribe, which is under the Apis genus. They are known for producing and storing honey, or liquefied sugar, as well as building impressively large nests using wax secreted by workers in a particular colony. Like some other bee species, honey bees are social and live in colonies numbering in the thousands. Three types of adult honey bees reside in one colony: the queen, male drones and infertile female workers.

Solitary Bees

Solitary bees generally live for about a year, although we normally only see the active, adult stage of its life, which usually lasts for only three or four weeks. These creatures spent the previous eleven months growing through the egg, larva, and pupa stage in the brood cell or nest.

In natural conditions, solitary bees will nest in many different places. Some species construct domed nests out of mud, plant resins, saps, or gums along with tiny pebbles on the surface of rocks or trees. Most solitary bee species will nest in the ground, digging a tunnel in bare or partially vegetated, well-drained soil. Sadly, a human desire for tidiness often results in the planting or covering of bare soil, and the removal of snags and other suitable nesting places. Others will nest in man-made solitary bee nesting houses.

Bumble Bees

Bumble bees are the only bees native to the US that are truly social. They live in colonies, share the work, and have multiple, overlapping generations throughout the spring, summer, and fall. However, unlike the non-native, European honey bees, the bumble bee colony is seasonal. At the end of the summer only the fertilized queens survive to hibernate through the winter. In the spring, she will found a new nest that eventually may grow to include dozens of individuals (occasionally a couple of hundred).


Wasps are generally seen as a benefit to the environment, wasps are predatory flying insects. Wasps are a great source of organic pest control on gardens, farms, and crops. There are commonly two types of wasps, solitary wasps and social wasps. Social wasp species live in large numbers. Wasp nests are abandoned by late autumn, the queens individually over-winter until spring. Wasps eat meaty things, spiders, and sweets. Wasps can be more hot-tempered than bees, and should be treated with caution.


Yellow Jackets

Often mistaken for honeybees, yellow jackets are just a bit quicker, smaller, and are a brighter yellow vs. the more orange color of honeybees. Honeybees will often be caring noticeable yellow pollen sacks on their back legs, while yellow jackets do not. Yellow jackets can be identified by a rapid side to side flight pattern prior to landing. They are scavengers eating meats and sweets and often found in parks or disrupting picnics or other events.


Hornets or bald faced hornets may look similar to yellow jackets in color, but hornets are perhaps twice as long and thicker. Hornets are slightly less aggressive than yellow jackets and like most wasps, hornets can sting multiple times with a very strong painful sting. Hornets build warped ball shaped nests ranging in size from football to basket ball. They can be found in attics, walls, and on the side of buildings, and on bushes, tree branches or hallows. While many hornet species are yellow and black, there are also white and black hornets. Like wasps, hornets also abandon the nest in late autumn; the queens overwinter and may return to the same or a nearby location the following spring to build a new nest. Like most wasps, hornets are considered a natural organic form of pest control to gardens and crops.

Paper Wasps

Paper wasps – long with yellow and rusty brown or black stripes. Paper wasp nests can be identified out in the open and under the eave structure of the roofline, the nests a grayish paper-like material honeycomb shaped, with the larger nest sizes approaching the size of a tenis racket containing up to 50 wasps per nest. Paper wasps can be confused with hornets which are similar in shape, but hornets typically have larger enclosed hives and paper wasps do not as commonly build nests on trees.