While both are common in our backyard gardens, what’s the difference between a dragonfly and a butterfly? You might be able to tell them apart empirically, but there’s more to distinguishing them from one another than just how they look.
In this article, we discuss all the differences between dragonflies and butterflies, including their body size differences and dietary preferences. We’ll also discuss the differences in their behavior and appearance so you can get a complete picture of the two creatures. Now let’s start talking about dragonflies and butterflies!
Comparing Dragonflies and Butterflies
|size||1-6 inches (with wings)||0.5-11 inches (with wings)|
|appearance||2 pairs of wings and long body with tail-like parts; colorful and iridescent.smooth exterior, large eyes||2 pairs of wings, usually close together; three segmented body components.Their markings are extremely colorful and detailed and often have fine hairs on their bodies|
|diet||cicada, mosquito, mosquito||Nectar, rotting plants, aphids|
|Behavior||Extremely fast and agile, capable of reaching speeds of up to 35 mph.Often found living near water or wetlands||Move slowly and look for nectar from plants.Some of the most colorful creatures on Earth|
Key Differences Between Dragonfly and Butterfly
There are a number of key differences between dragonflies and butterflies. Butterflies are members of the order Lepidoptera while dragonflies are members of the order Odonata. Dragonflies have elongated bodies compared to butterflies’ segmented bodies. Butterfly wings are rounder compared to the long, narrow wings of dragonflies.
Let us now discuss some more differences between these two unique creatures.
Dragonflies vs Butterflies: Size
While there are many different species of dragonflies and butterflies, you can tell the two creatures apart by their size. For example, the average size of a dragonfly is 1 to 6 inches, while the average size of a butterfly is 0.5 inches to 11 inches. However, most butterflies are only 1 to 2 inches across, making dragonflies larger overall.
There are always exceptions to this rule, as Queen Alexandra’s birdwing butterflies are much larger than any other type of dragonfly—up to 11 inches long. The largest dragonfly is the giant Ghanaian dragonfly, which has a wingspan of only 5 inches across.
Dragonflies and Butterflies: Diets
A key difference between butterflies and dragonflies is their dietary preferences. For example, butterflies eat nectar, decaying plants, and some aphids, while dragonflies eat mosquitos, small insects, and cicadas. This makes dragonflies more carnivorous than butterflies, although carnivorous butterflies also exist.
Dragonflies and Butterflies: Appearances
You can easily distinguish dragonflies from butterflies based on their appearance. For example, butterflies have three segmented body parts of head, thorax and abdomen, while dragonflies appear as if they are one continuous part. The body of a dragonfly is longer and narrower compared to that of a butterfly.
Both insects are very colorful and vibrant, but dragonflies are more colorful than butterflies. You can also often see small hairs on the legs and wings of butterflies, while dragonflies rarely have hairs. The eyes of dragonflies tend to be larger than those of butterflies, and you can often see the proboscis of butterflies, which dragonflies don’t usually display.
Dragonflies and Butterflies: Behavior
If you observe butterflies and dragonflies and their natural habitats, you may notice some key behavioral differences between them. One of the first things you’ll notice is that dragonflies are much more agile than butterflies. While most butterflies fly at a leisurely pace, dragonflies can fly at speeds of up to 35 miles per hour.
You can usually identify a dragonfly if you see a flying insect flitting around with extreme agility. Butterflies land on grass and flowers at a leisurely pace, while dragonflies like to move quickly and don’t linger in any particular place for too long.
Given their differences in diet and preferences, most butterflies live in gardens or places with many different flowers, while dragonflies live near bodies of water. That’s because many different insects lay their eggs on or near the water’s surface, causing the common dragonfly to feast on them.
Dragonfly vs Butterfly: Order
A final difference between dragonflies and butterflies is the order they belong to. Although they are technically insects, dragonflies belong to the order Odonata, while butterflies belong to the order Lepidoptera. There are approximately 7,000 species of true dragonflies, and nearly 18,000 species of true butterflies. That means there are more butterflies in the world than there are dragonflies in the world!
I am broadly interested in how human activities influence the ability of wildlife to persist in the modified environments that we create.
Specifically, my research investigates how the configuration and composition of landscapes influence the movement and population dynamics of forest birds. Both natural and human-derived fragmenting of habitat can influence where birds settle, how they access the resources they need to survive and reproduce, and these factors in turn affect population demographics. Most recently, I have been studying the ability of individuals to move through and utilize forested areas which have been modified through timber harvest as they seek out resources for the breeding and postfledging phases. As well I am working in collaboration with Parks Canada scientists to examine in the influence of high density moose populations on forest bird communities in Gros Morne National Park. Many of my projects are conducted in collaboration or consultation with representatives of industry and government agencies, seeking to improve the management and sustainability of natural resource extraction.
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