Butterflies are known for their bright colors and frequent visits to flowers bringing a sign of warm summer days.
There are over 17,000 species of butterflies in the world, found on every continent except Antarctica. Over 700 species of them are found in the United States.
They are insects with 4 large-scale, colorful wings and 3-segmented bodies.
Butterflies are 6-legged arthropods in the class Insecta and belong to the order Lepidoptera. Moths and skippers belong to this order as well.
Since moths and skippers often look like butterflies, the best way to tell them apart is by looking at their antennae.
Butterflies have long, thread-like, bulb-tipped antennae. Moths’ antennae are saw-edged or feathery and skippers’ are thread-like with hooked tips.
The butterfly has a mouth located between its eyes and a proboscis. The proboscis is a long tube that extends out to drink water, flower nectar, tree sap, and so on.
Interestingly, butterflies have the majority of their chemoreceptor “taste buds” on their feet. Their feeding behavior pollinates flowers, crops, and other plants.
Lepidoptera insects undergo a 4-stage life cycle of egg, larva/caterpillar, pupa/chrysalis, and imago/adult. Butterflies live on average 15 days to 6 weeks, with weather and predators potentially shortening this time frame.
Read on to learn about sixteen fascinating insects that are similar to butterflies.
1. Peacock Katydid
Scientific Name: Pterochroza ocellata
Quick Summary: The peacock katydid displays beautiful colors and has eyespot patterns like butterflies.
The peacock katydid is related to grasshoppers and crickets.
This particular nocturnal insect has beautifully patterned and colored hind wings. Their wings are unique to the individual, much like the differing fingerprints of a person.
The peacock katydid will open its wings and display its red-toned colors and eye-shaped spots to scare away predators. When its wings are folded, it mimics dead leaves, allowing it to camouflage itself.
2. Spotted Lanternfly
Scientific Name: Lycorma delicatula
Quick Summary: The spotted lanternfly is similar to a butterfly with its colorful appearance.
The spotted lanternfly is an invasive species native to China. They are currently found in parts of the United States, including Connecticut, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, and Virginia.
Spotted Lanterflies belong to the Fulgoridae family. However, they are often superficially mistaken for Lepidoptera with their varied, bright colors.
It is similar to a butterfly in its overall appearance. The front wings are black-spotted brown wings. Its hind wings have black and white bands and black-spotted red patches.
However, this insect has a stocky bee-like abdomen.
The spotted lanternfly has a piercing tongue to suck sap from plants such as grapevines, black walnut, willow, and maple trees. They eject a sugary and sticky honeydew liquid that is eaten by butterflies, ants, and moths.
3. Butterfly Dragonfly
Scientific Name: Rhyothemis fuliginosa
Quick Summary: This dragonfly can flutter like a butterfly, has broad-butterfly-like wings, and is active in the summer.
Dragonflies in general have transparency on their wings, and are sturdy and agile fliers, catching insect prey on the wing. This is much different than butterflies.
The butterfly dragonfly is given “butterfly” in its name for the appearance of its broad wings, as well as its ability to flutter like one.
Other species of dragonflies can be confused with butterflies in general, since they have bright vibrant colors. They are found all over the world, except Antarctica, and are active in the summer season.
4. Kalligrammatid Lacewing
Scientific Name: Kalligrammatidae
Quick Summary: These extinct insects had delicate wings similar to butterflies.
These insects are unfortunately extinct, so you might only see renderings in a museum or book. However, this Jurassic-era insect looks like a butterfly with its broad wings and eye-like patterns.
Like butterflies, these 2-inch-long insects had a proboscis but were found to eat gymnosperms from trees instead of nectar.
5. Lubber Grasshopper
Scientific Name: Titanacris albipes
Quick Summary: The lubber grasshopper hopper is a large grasshopper with vibrantly colored wings like a butterfly.
There are about 11,000 species of grasshoppers in the world. Many of them have brightly colored hindwings in shades of red, yellow, or blue to scare off predators.
The giant lubber grasshopper has beautifully vibrant rings with lots of purple and other shades of blue, green, or yellow.
Females are larger than males at about 13 centimeters (5 inches). They are found living in central and south America in the canopies of tropical forests.
6. Sawfly Larvae
Scientific Name: Symphyta
Quick Summary: Sawfly larvae look like butterfly caterpillars.
There are some small differences between sawfly larvae and butterfly caterpillars.
Caterpillars have protruding prolegs in the middle and tail ends of their bodies. Sawfly larvae, on the other hand, have prolegs on every segment of their bodies.
These insects feed on leaves, evergreens, gardens, and foliage causing noticeable damage. Once mature, they look more like a house fly or wasp and have segmented antennae.
They are not very active and are weak fliers.
Scientific Name: Cicadellidae
Quick Summary: Similar to butterflies, leafhoppers are colorful and active in the summer.
Cicadellidae is one of the largest families of insects with over 23,000 species. They are colorful with tones of red, blue, yellow, orange, and green.
Active in the summer leafhoppers hop onto plants, and insert a needle-like beak into plant tissue to feed. They destroy crops such as apples, potatoes, and beans with their feeding frenzies.
These insects do not have a caterpillar stage, born as juveniles without a cocoon. Their long powerful hind legs allow them to hop successfully from plant to plant.
8. Swallowtail Moth
Scientific Name: Ourapteryx sambucaria
Quick Summary: These moths are often present during the day, and look very much like butterflies.
Many moths are easily confused with butterflies.
The swallowtail moth has a similar name to the swallowtail butterfly causing confusion about what observers see. However, the moth variety belongs to the Uraniidae family and the butterfly belongs to Papilionidae.
Species of swallowtail moth have broad wings that are often brightly colored with a metallic iridescence. Unlike other nocturnal moths, swallowtails can be seen during the day. This makes them easily confused with butterflies.
“Day moths” tend to mimic bumblebees, wasps, and hummingbirds in their activity.
9. Luna Moth
Scientific Name: Actias luna
Quick Summary: They are similar to butterflies with bulb-tipped antennae and broad, colorful wings.
Luna moths have bulb-tipped antennae like butterflies. Yet, their stalks of antennae are different in that they are feathery.
These insects are frequently found in North American deciduous woodlands or well-lit areas at night.
Interestingly, as luna moths mature into winged adults, they do not have a mouth. As a result, they live for only 1 week, breeding during this time.
10. Atlas Moth
Scientific Name: Attacus atlas
Quick Summary: The Atlas moth resembles butterflies with their large beautifully patterned wingspan.
The atlas moth is one of the largest with a wingspan of 9.8 to 12 inches. They resemble butterflies with their beautifully patterned wings.
Their wings tips look like snake heads, and when threatened the moth moves its wings to mimic a snake. They have false eye patterns to startle predators such as birds and lizards, as well.
This moth has a short, non-functioning proboscis, which is not used to eat once it is a mature winged adult.
Atlas moths rely on food energy reserves from their massive consumption as caterpillars. As adults, they spend 1 or 2 weeks mating until they die.
The silk from their cocoons is popularly used to make goods such as purses, ties, and scarves.
11. Winter Moth
Scientific Name: Operophtera brumata
Quick Summary: Male winter moths resemble butterflies with their patterned wings and overall shape.
These invasive moths of European origins are found in the United States. They can damage trees with their extensive feeding and egg-laying activities.
Male winter moths have broad yellow-brown wings with striping patterns. While dull in color, their overall shape can be mistaken as a butterfly.
Interestingly, female winter moths look different with short stubby wings and the inability to fly.
After mating, the female’s job is to lay eggs. She deposits 150 to 350 tiny green eggs into bark crevices or other suitable places.
These eggs turn an orange-red color, and the parents die while the eggs over-winter. The eggs hatch in the spring when temperatures are consistently at least 55˚F.
The larvae crawl up tree trunks, producing silken threads to carry them in the wind, referred to as “ballooning”.
They will also drop from trees into ornamental shrubs. The goal is to get to the soil to pupate until winter and then emerge as adults.
12. Cecropia Moth
Scientific Name: Hyalophora cecropia
Quick Summary: Cecropia moths have a showy display of colors and patterns on their wings like butterflies.
The cecropia moth is found throughout North America in places such as Nova Scotia, Maine, Florida, and the Rocky Mountains.
These moths can vary in size but are considered large and heavy with a wingspan of up to 6 inches and a weight of up to 1.6 ounces.
Like butterflies, they have broad, colorful wings. The cecropia moths’ wings have crescent-shaped spots of red with white centers and eye spots on a brown base.
Their abdomens are alternating colors of red and white.
Females produce pheromones to breed, and males can detect these up to 1-mile away. Interestingly, bolas spiders can mimic these pheromones, which brings them a tasty male cecropia moth to eat.
Scientific Name: Hesperiidae
Quick Summary: Skippers are in the same family as butterflies, sharing similar characteristics.
There is debate if skippers are butterflies or moths, but regardless they are in the same family of Lepidoptera.
Like butterflies, they have thread-like antennae but have hooked ends instead of bulbs. They exhibit diurnal behavior like butterflies.
Skippers hold their first pair of wings in a vertical position, another butterfly characteristic.
However, their dull coloration, head characteristics, and stout, short bodies are more like moths.
These insects have fast, darting flight, capable of reaching 20 miles per hour.
Skippers are found worldwide, with a higher diversity of species found in tropical areas.
14. Ambragaeana Cicada
Scientific Name: Ambragaeana
Quick Summary: This cicada beats its broad, colorful wings like a butterfly.
Ambragaeana cicadas are often referred to as “butterfly cicadas” for their broad and multicolored wings. They beat these wings slowly like butterflies instead of vibrating them like other cicada species.
The various species of butterfly cicadas are typically found in tropical areas of the eastern hemisphere.
15. Tiger Moth
Scientific Name: Arctia caja
Quick Summary: Tiger moths have colorful patterned wings similar to butterflies.
The tiger moth has forewings with an animal-like spotted pattern, and orange-black spotted hind wings. The orange color often looks similar to that of a monarch butterfly. They can also have shades of red and green.
The caterpillar stage of these insects looks wooly or fuzzy, often called a “wooly bear”.
Tiger moths are found in North America and Eurasia in temperate and cold areas, visiting gardens, woodlands, and meadows.
Scientific Name: Syrphidae
Quick Summary: Hoverflies are considerable pollinators as they drink nectar from flowers like butterflies.
While hoverflies do not look like butterflies, with bee-like bodies, and only 2 wings, they are pollinators like butterflies. They prefer to visit flowers, hovering over them, and drinking nectar with their proboscis.
Interestingly, hoverfly larvae are primarily carnivorous. They eat other insect larvae, as well as aphids, caterpillars, and thrips.
Check out some of the beautiful species of butterflies commonly found in rainforests:
The above 16 insects are similar to butterflies, primarily because they have broad wings and beautiful colors. They also eat using a proboscis and many of them contribute to the pollination of plants.
Moths and skippers are most commonly mistaken as butterflies. This is because they are in the same Lepidoptera taxonomic classification. Proper identification is done best by examining the antennae.
Butterflies and skippers have thread-like antennae. Yet, the butterflies’ antennae ends are bulbed and the skippers’ are hooked. Moths can have bulb-tipped antennas, however, the stalks are feathery or saw-edged.