Butterfly vs. Caterpillar: Natural Beauty

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Difference between Butterfly and Caterpillar

Lepidoptera is the order of insects which comprises the butterfly species. The order contains more than 180.000 species grouped in 128 families. Most species have bodies covered in scales. Two large compound eyes, membranous wings and an elongated mouth part are also defining features. The larvae stages are called caterpillars.

Members of the order can be found in various habitats, generally in the areas of flowering plants. For example, 13,000 species were cataloged in North America and 10,000 in Australia. Most species are beneficial as they actively participate in the pollination process of flowers. From the larvae of the Bombyx mori popularly known as silkworms people obtain silk threads.



A butterfly is a diurnal flying insect from the Lepidoptera order having four stages in its life cycle: egg, larva, pupa and adult. A caterpillar is the larval stage of butterflies and moths.


A butterfly has a body composed of a head, thorax and abdomen covered with scales of various colorations. The pattern varies from species to species. Browns and blacks occur naturally on the scales because they contain melanin pigments. Other colors are created by the micro-structure of scales as they scatter light due to their photonic crystal nature.

Two antennae and two compound eyes give the butterfly sight and sense of direction. The insect also has an elongated mouth part called proboscis enabling it to extract the nectar from flowers. It uses its membranous wings to fly. A caterpillar has a long, visibly segmented body with protuberances. It has three pairs of legs on the three thoracic segments, four pairs of prolegs in the middle segments and some species have one last pair on the last segment of the abdomen. There are some caterpillars which have their body covered in hair. Most of them have the color schematics borrowed from the flowers they pollinate.

Defense Mechanism

Butterflies can use toxins created by flowers for their own defense against predators. Other species use cryptic coloration to mimic their environment and remain unnoticed. In this attempt they have developed unique patterns of great beauty. To divert attention from their body, eye forms are located on their wings to trick the predators.

The hair on a caterpillar can cause irritations so as to determine the aggressor to back away. Some species regurgitate the digestive juices from their body which are known for their acidic properties. Other species like the Lycaenid are protected by ants which they reward by providing food supplies. Caterpillars can also store dangerous toxins which they obtain by eating the leaves of poisonous plants.

Similarities and Differences

  • A butterfly is a diurnal insect from the Lepidoptera order. A caterpillar is a larval stage of a butterfly.
  • The body of a butterfly has 3 segments covered with scales, two antennae, a proboscis and membranous wings. Caterpillars have long segmented bodies with many pairs of legs.
  • Butterflies and caterpillars can store toxins they obtain from plants and use them against predators.

Which stage lasts the longest?
  • Butterfly
  • Caterpillar

comments 1 Comments

  • ishwer chander . 3+ yrs. ago

Kindly explained for Butterfly and catterpillar in a soft way.

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