Nature Connection #15 – What’s The Difference? (Spring)

This week’s connection focuses on three pairs of animals that often are mistaken for each other. With Spring on the wing, we’ll all be seeing them soon, if we haven’t already. But the next time you see them, you’ll know for sure what they are, and why.

What’s the Difference Between . . .

A Butterfly and a Moth?
The wings of both are covered with what looks like fine powder, but it’s actually tiny fishlike scales. Their order – Lepidoptera – means scaly wings. Butterflies have thin, wirelike antennae with little knobs on the tips, and a skinny, hairless body. All but a few butterflies fly only in daylight. Most butterflies rest with wings erect.

In contrast, most moths fly by night, guided by their amazingly sensitive, feathery antennae. Most have short, furry bodies and rest with their wings spread flat.

Both come in a variety of colors and sizes (1 1/8 to 12-inch wingspan!). Both undergo complete metamorphosis, but butterflies construct a hard chrysalis shell, while moths spin a silky cocoon or make a chamber underground from which they emerge as adults.

A Wasp and a Bee?
Most bees have rather stout, hairy bodies. They forage for and store pollen and nectar, pollinating many plants as they go. Honey bees transform nectar into storable honey. Their larvae dine on honey and pollen. The hind legs of many bees feature tiny baskets used to carry pollen back to the hive.

Most wasps have hairless bodies with a thin “wasp waist” between the thorax and abdomen. They also feed on nectar and pollen, but most of their diet consists of insects. Not only do wasps pollinate various plant species, they devour many insects that damage cash crops. They parasitize many more by laying eggs in or on the bodies of caterpillars, grubs, and adult insects. When the eggs hatch, the wasp larvae eat their luckless host from the inside.

A Frog and A Toad?
Frogs and toads are amphibians, dividing their time between land and water. True frogs have powerful, long hind legs that enable them to leap amazing distances. Their skin is smooth and moist. Most true frogs live in or close to water. They’re strong swimmers, using (yes) the frog kick for rapid propulsion. Tree frogs have suction pads that permit them to climb even smooth surfaces. Some frogs can change color to match their surroundings.

Toads are more difficult to spot on land, effectively camouflaged by their dry, warty-looking skin and darker color. Most are broader bodied and shorter legged than frogs, and can only hop a few inches at a time. Toads take to water only to breed. Both frogs and toads lay eggs that develop into tadpoles before becoming adults.

Watch for more “What’s the Difference?” at the start of each Season. If you have two specific types of animals that you find it hard to tell apart, be sure to send me a message, and I’ll research them for you.

(The above information is from the Sierra Club’s “What’s the Difference?” Knowledge Card deck, written by J. Baldwin. The deck is available through )

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