What's the Difference Between Moths and Butterflies?

iStock/Serg_Velusceac
iStock/Serg_Velusceac

Butterflies and moths share a lot in common. Both species are insects, they both start life as caterpillars, and they both sport large, lustrous wings. But there are also clear scientific differences that separate the two—and you don't need to be an entomologist to recognize them.

Moths and butterflies look and behave so similarly because they comprise the same order of insects. Organisms in the order Lepidoptera are defined by their scaled wings and the straw-like mouthparts they use to sip fluids. They are born as larvae with segmented bodies and chewing mouthparts and undergo metamorphosis to reach their mature forms.

When a Lepidoptera caterpillar has entered its pupa stage, it will emerge as a creature that falls under one of two umbrellas: moth or butterfly. Moths can generally be recognized by their antennae. Unlike butterflies, which have long, skinny antennae that get wider at the tips, moth antennae have rows of hair-like bristles like feathers.

If you can't see the antennae of the insect you're looking at, check its wings. They're both large and shiny, but the wings of moths and butterflies bear some key differences. Moth wings have a structure that butterflies lack called a frenulum, which connects the front and back sections of the wings together. When butterflies close their wings, they bring them together above their backs like the pages of a book, and when moths close them, they fold them straight back like a paper fan. Color can be a distinguishing factor—butterflies like monarchs and swallowtails have brightly colored wings, while moths tend to be colored with duller shades like browns and creams—but that doesn’t always confirm whether a creature is a moth or a butterfly. Some moth species, like the luna and rosy maple moth, display strikingly vibrant color patterns.

Fox moth with its wings pulled back.
A fox moth with its wings pulled back.
iStock/Ian_Redding

Their differences don't end with appearances. The time of day these critters can be seen out and about indicates which type of lepidopteran they are. While most butterflies are diurnal, meaning they're active during the day, moths tend to be nocturnal. Without bright sunlight to fly by, moths evolved to use the moon to navigate, which is why the insects are attracted to bright light sources like porch lights and campfires.

In summary: If you can't tell if the thing flapping its wings in front of you is a moth or butterfly, check its wings, antennae, and the time of day. And if you want to know if it's a bug, an insect, or both, there's an entirely different elimination process you need to go through.

Keep Your Cat Busy With a Board Game That Doubles as a Scratch Pad

Cheerble
Cheerble

No matter how much you love playing with your cat, waving a feather toy in front of its face can get monotonous after a while (for the both of you). To shake up playtime, the Cheerble three-in-one board game looks to provide your feline housemate with hours of hands-free entertainment.

Cheerble's board game, which is currently raising money on Kickstarter, is designed to keep even the most restless cats stimulated. The first component of the game is the electronic Cheerble ball, which rolls on its own when your cat touches it with their paw or nose—no remote control required. And on days when your cat is especially energetic, you can adjust the ball's settings to roll and bounce in a way that matches their stamina.

Cheerable cat toy on Kickstarter.
Cheerble

The Cheerble balls are meant to pair with the Cheerble game board, which consists of a box that has plenty of room for balls to roll around. The board is also covered on one side with a platform that has holes big enough for your cat to fit their paws through, so they can hunt the balls like a game of Whack-a-Mole. And if your cat ever loses interest in chasing the ball, the board also includes a built-in scratch pad and fluffy wand toy to slap around. A simplified version of the board game includes the scratch pad without the wand or hole maze, so you can tailor your purchase for your cat's interests.

Cheerble cat board game.
Cheerble

Since launching its campaign on Kickstarter on April 23, Cheerble has raised over $128,000, already blowing past its initial goal of $6416. You can back the Kickstarter today to claim a Cheerble product, with $32 getting you a ball and $58 getting you the board game. You can make your pledge here, with shipping estimated for July 2020.

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Why Did Noon Used to Mean 3 p.m.?

3 p.m. is basically noon for people who wake up at 12 p.m.
3 p.m. is basically noon for people who wake up at 12 p.m.
Mckyartstudio/iStock via Getty Images

If you’re a late sleeper, you might find yourself thinking 12 p.m. seems way too early to be considered midday, and the word noon would much better describe, say, 3 p.m. It turns out that ancient Romans would have agreed with you, if only for etymological reasons.

As Reader’s Digest explains, the days in ancient Rome were split into four periods of three hours each. The first hour was at sunrise around 6 a.m.—called prime, for first—followed by 9 a.m. (terce, denoting the third hour), 12 p.m. (sext, for sixth), and 3 p.m. (none, for ninth).

According to Merriam-Webster, Middle and Old English borrowed the time-keeping tradition, along with the Latin word for ninth, which was changed to nōn and eventually noon. Though we’re not sure exactly when or why noon started referring to 12 p.m. instead of 3 p.m., it could have something to do with Christian prayer traditions. In the Bible, Jesus’s crucifixion is said to have taken place at the ninth hour, and that’s when worshippers partook in their second of three daily prayers; the others were in the morning and evening. It’s possible that hungry monks were behind noon’s gradual shift from 3 p.m. to 12 p.m.—since their daily fast didn’t end until after the midday prayer, they had a built-in motive for moving it earlier.

While we didn’t exactly stay true to the original Latin meaning of noon, there’s another important remnant of ancient Rome hiding in the way we tell time today. Romans referred to 12 p.m. as meridiem, for midday, and so do we. A.M. is an abbreviation for ante meridiem, or before midday, and P.M. means post meridiem, or after midday.

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