Differences between butterflies and moths

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A common classification of the Lepidoptera involves their differentiation into butterflies and moths. Butterflies are a natural monophyletic group, often given the sub-order Rhopalocera, which includes Papilionoidea (true butterfiles), Hesperiidae (skippers), and Hedylidae (butterfly moths). In this taxonomic scheme moths belong to the sub-order Heterocera. Other taxonomic schemes have been proposed; the most common putting the butterflies into the sub-order Ditrysia and then the "super-family" Papilionoidea, and ignoring a classification for moths. None of the taxonomic schemes are perfect however, and taxonomists commonly argue over how to define the obvious differences between butterflies and moths.

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Taxonomy

Rhopalocera and Heterocera are non-standard divisions in the taxonomy of Lepidopterans, used in an attempt to formalize the popular distinction between butterflies and moths.

This nomenclature is not scientifically accepted because while the butterflies form a monophyletic group, the moths, which comprise the rest of the Lepidoptera, are not.

Many attempts have been made to group the superfamilies of the Lepidoptera into natural groups, most of which fail because one of the two groups is not monophyletic: Microlepidotera and Macrolepidoptera, Heterocera and Rhopalocera, Jugatae and Frenatae, Monotrysia and Ditrysia.[1]

Although the rules for distinguishing these groups are not completely hard and fast, one very good guiding principle is that butterflies have thin antennae and (with one exception) have small balls or clubs at the end of their antennae. Moth antennae can be quite varied in appearance, but in particular lack the club end. The divisions are named by this principle: "club-antennae" (Rhopalocera) or "varied-antennae" (Heterocera).

The following families of Lepidoptera are usually considered as butterflies:

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