What a difference there is between butterflies and moths! Not so much a physical difference, although their wings shut along the abdomen in moths while a butterfly fold its wings upright above its body. No, the distinction between the two related kinds of insect is psychological. in the eye of the beholder. Butterflies are creatures of the day, of warm sunny afternoons, whereas moths are animals of the night, fatally attracted to the destructive light of the candle flame. The death’s head is a species of moth and its name could never belong to a butterfly. Such a dark term could only belong to a moth.
This a generalisation of course, and cinnabar moths, for example, are as much at home in the daylight as any butterfly, but the ragwort that their brighty coloured caterpillars feast on is a sinister and poisonous plant. The clothes moth are pests, and were far worse before man-made fibres deprived them of much of their food. This applies to the larval stage of the insect’s development, and the clothes moth caterpillars love to feast on wool; it is exceptionally inimical to humanity.
All this eating is done at the larval stage; I believe butterflies can drink a certain amount of nectar as adults, but some insects have not even got mouths. Their voracious appetite is ended in the transformation of the chrysalis.
Not all butterflies are friends; there is the problem of the cabbage white. This is not helped by the fact that the butterfly is not attractively patterned like the swallowtail or the tortoiseshell. The cabbage white may be dull to look at, but it is a prolific egg layer. By regularly inspecting the leaves of your growing cabbages you can remove many of the clusters of eggs, but you will still have plenty of caterpillars left to be squashed later on, or else to eat your plants. The alternative is to spray insecticide everywhere, but that is to clear the environment of all kinds of insects, the good along with the bad. There is always the risk of eating toxic residues too, especially as amateur gardeners are not particularly expert in applying insecticide.
But to return to these two insects, the butterfly and the moth; there are dozens more species of moth than butterfly, many of them small and dull to look at. In this country these insects do not grow to any great size, but in tropical lands they can (apparently) grow much larger.
Butterflies can travel long distances, and some years we are invaded by swarms of Painted Lady butterflies from France. With such and English name you would expect them to be a native, but apparently not. This species cannot over-winter in the British Isles, but they have been seen even further abroad in Iceland.
The Swallowtail is a beautiful insect which only lives on the Norfolk Broads, but despite seeing the Milk Parsley that the caterpillars feed on at Ranworth Broad Nature Reserve I have never seen one. It is the largest British butterfly.