While both are commonly found in our backyard gardens, what are all of the differences between a dragonfly vs butterfly? You are likely able to tell them apart based on experience, but there are more things that differentiate them from each other besides their physical appearances.
In this article, we will address all of the differences between dragonflies and butterflies, including their size differences and dietary preferences. We will also discuss their behavioral differences and appearances so that you can have a full understanding of these two creatures. Let’s get started and talk about dragonflies and butterflies now!
Comparing Dragonfly vs Butterfly
|Size||1-6 inches (with wings)||0.5-11 inches (with wings)|
|Appearance||2 pairs of wings and a long body with a tail-like component; colorful and iridescent. Smooth in appearance with very large eyes||2 pairs of wings, often close together; three segmented body components. Extremely colorful and detailed in their markings, and often has small hairs on body|
|Diet||Cicadas, gnats, mosquitoes||Nectar, decaying plants, aphids|
|Behavior||Extremely fast and agile, capable of reaching speeds up to 35 mph. Often found living near water or wetlands||Slow moving and seeks out the nectar of plants. Some of the most colorful creatures on the planet|
Key Differences Between Dragonfly vs Butterfly
There are many key differences between dragonflies and butterflies. Butterflies are members of the Lepidoptera order, while dragonflies are members of the Odonata order. Dragonflies have long and slender bodies compared to the segmented body of the butterfly. The wings of the butterfly are more rounded compared to the long and narrow wings of the dragonfly.
Let’s discuss even more differences between these two unique creatures now.
Dragonfly vs Butterfly: Size
While there are many different species of both dragonflies and butterflies, you can tell the difference between these two creatures based on their sizes. For example, the average dragonfly measures anywhere from 1 to 6 inches across while the average butterfly measures half an inch to 11 inches across. However, most butterflies only measure 1 to 2 inches across, making dragonflies larger overall.
There are always exceptions to this rule, as the Queen Alexandra’s birdwing butterfly measures far larger than any other type of dragonfly- up to 11 inches across. The largest dragonfly is the giant garner dragonfly, and its wingspan only measures 5 inches across.
Dragonfly vs Butterfly: Diet
A key difference between butterflies and dragonflies lies in their dietary preferences. For example, butterflies eat nectar, decaying plants, and some aphids, while dragonflies eat mosquitoes, gnats, and cicadas. This makes dragonflies more carnivorous than butterflies, though carnivorous butterflies also exist.
Dragonfly vs Butterfly: Appearance
You can easily tell the difference between a dragonfly and a butterfly based on their appearance. For example, butterflies have three segmented body parts which are the head, thorax and abdomen, while dragonflies appear as if they are one continuous piece. The body of a dragonfly is much longer and more narrow compared to the body of a butterfly.
Both of these insects are extremely colorful and vibrant, though dragonflies have a more iridescent quality compared to butterflies. You can also frequently see small hairs on the legs and wings of butterflies, while dragonflies are rarely hairy. The eyes of a dragonfly tend to appear larger than the eyes of a butterfly, and you can often see a butterfly’s proboscis, which dragonflies do not typically show.
Dragonfly vs Butterfly: Behavior
If you observe a butterfly and dragonfly and its natural habitat, you will likely notice some key behavioral differences between them. One of the first things you will notice is that a dragonfly is far more agile compared to a butterfly. Most butterflies fly in a leisurely manner, while dragonflies can fly as fast as 35 miles per hour.
You can typically identify a dragonfly if you see a flying insect darting around quickly and with extreme agility. Butterflies land on flowers and plants in a leisurely way, while dragonflies prefer to move around quickly, not lingering in any particular place for very long.
Given their dietary differences and preferences, most butterflies are found in gardens or locations with many different flowers, while dragonflies are found near bodies of water. This is because many different insects lay their eggs atop the surface of water or near water sources, leading to a feast for the average dragonfly.
Dragonfly vs Butterfly: Order
The final difference between dragonflies and butterflies is the order in which they belong to. While both of them are technically insects, dragonflies belong to the Odonata order while butterflies belong to the Lepidoptera order. There are roughly 7,000 species of true dragonflies, while there are nearly 18,000 species of true butterflies. This means that there are more butterflies in the world compared to the amount of dragonflies there are in the world!
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