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MLA Full: "Moths vs Butterflies." YouTube, uploaded by thebrainscoop, 9 October 2013,
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Wherein we explore the order Lepidoptera!
Huge thanks to Jim Boone, collection manager of insects for making this episode possible. Check out his episode from the Chicago Adventure series!

You can learn more about The Field Museum's historical butterfly collection from J. Boone:


The Brain Scoop is written and hosted by:
Emily Graslie

Created By:
Hank Green

Directed, Edited, Animated, and Scored by:
Michael Aranda

Filmed on Location and Supported by:
The Field Museum in Chicago, IL

Translated captions provided by John-Alan Pascoe, Enrico Cioni, Anne-Sophie Caron, Barbara Velázquez, Katerina Idrik, Camillo Ferreira, TBSkyen, Eva Topitz, Evan Liao, and Seth Bergenholtz. Thanks, guys!

You never hear of anybody saying that they've got moths in their stomach, that sounds like some kind of gastrointestinal problem you should probably be seeking medical attention for. And you never say that you're attracted to something like a butterfly to a flame, but why not? Moths and butterflies are both classified as the order Lepidoptera, but the taxonomic, or naming, differences get pretty confusing, so let's just focus on the morphological differences, or rather, how you can tell them apart by sight.

One of the easiest ways of telling them apart is by looking at their antennae: butterflies have antennae that are called filiform, or needle-like, they're long and skinny and they're clubbed or hooked at the end. Moths, on the other hand, have feathery antennae. Despite the differences in shape, the antennae of both moths and butterflies are used for the same purpose, and that is to detect sexy pheromones from members of the same species. Once the moth or butterfly finds a mate and uh, then they, uh, you know.

Stefan: The birds and the bees!

Emily: No, Stefan, the moths and the butterflies. Anyway, they have sex. Eggs are laid and eventually, a caterpillar hatches! And it doesn't matter whether or not it's a butterfly or a moth, they're both called 'caterpillars', you can have a butterfly caterpillar and a moth caterpillar, they're all caterpillars, cater, caterpillars. Caterpillars. After the hungry, hungry caterpillar has eaten all of the things it will either form a chrysalis or a cocoon, butterflies form chrysalises, and moths form cocoons, and the easiest way to remember that is that butterflies form chrysalises and moths form cocoons. Although these encasings are structurally different, they serve the same function. To make a chrysalis, the butterfly larva will harden its own skin. To make a cocoon, the moth larva will create a protective shelter out of any nearby materials--that might be everything from leaves, its own silk production, sawdust, and in some cases, paper. Despite the structural differences, the cocoon and the chrysalis serve the same function. Puberty!

To make the transition into adulthood, the body inside of the encasing has to liquefy and literally rebuild itself before it's ready to emerge as the beautiful adult that it is. In comparison, acne doesn't seem that bad. When they're ready to emerge, the butterflies will burst out of their chrysalises, and the moths will use acidic spit in order to help break down the protective walls of their cocoons. Another way to tell whether or not you've got a butterfly or moth on your hand, or more likely, in your garden, is by how they sit when resting. Butterflies rest with their wings together and up, and moths rest with their down on either side of their plump, little bodies. Butterflies and moths and butterflies and moths.

Also, another difference is that butterflies have typically long and slender abdomens, where moths are going to be fuller in shape, and their fuzzy little bodies are covered in what looks like hair, but are actually scales. These scales help keep moths warm on lonely nights. Butterflies don't have these, so it's thought that butterflies stay warm by actually absorbing solar radiation, so if you're terrified of malevolent hordes of invasive butterflies, remember that they're weakest at night.

Speaking of day and night time activities, moths are the ones with the reputation for being active most at night. That's not to say there aren't diurnal moths that are active during the day, but the majority of moths navigate by a process called transverse orientation, meaning they're guided by the light of the Milky Way or the moon. This is the same way that dung beetles mosey their poop balls or sea turtles find the ocean after hatching.

While moths are usually not as brightly colored as butterflies, there are exceptions, like the gorgeous Madagascar Sunset Moth, which is active during the day, or Luna Moths, which are ethereal and gorgeous, and can be used to fortify light armor potions in Skyrim.

So, there you have it. Not only will you be able to identify the unassuming lepidopteran you spot flitting around your garden or at your porch light at night, but you can rest easy knowing that it's an acid spitting, solar radiation absorbing, wonder of beautiful nature. Or something to that effect.

Special thanks to Jim Boone for all of his help on this episode. This has been an episode of The Brain Scoop, and thanks for watching.

(Endscreen/Credits play)

Emily: Butterflies. Moths. Butterflies. Moths. Butterflies. Moths.

It still has brains on it.