The visual system of nocturnal Hedyloidea butterflies was investigated for the first time, using light and electron microscopy. This study was undertaken to determine whether hedylids possess the classic superposition eye design characteristic of most moths, or apposition eyes of true butterflies (Papilionoidea), and, to gain insights into the sensory ecology of the Hedyloidea. We show that Macrosoma heliconiaria possesses a superposition-type visual mechanism, characterized by long cylindrical crystalline cones, a lack of corneal processes, 8 constricted retinular sense cells, rhabdoms separated from the crystalline cones forming a translucent ‘clear zone’, and tight networks of trachea that form a tapetum proximal to the retina and which also surround the rhabdoms to form a tracheal sheath. Dark-adapted individuals of M. heliconiaria, M. conifera, and M. rubidinarea exhibited distal retinular pigment migration, forming an eye glow. Correspondingly, light-exposure induced pigment to migrate proximally, causing the eye glow to be replaced by a dark pseudopupil. Other characteristics of the visual system, including relative eye size, facet size, and external morphology of the optic lobes, are mostly ‘moth like’ and correlate with an active, nocturnal lifestyle. The results are discussed in relation to the evolution of lepidopteran eyes, and the sensory ecology of this poorly understood butterfly superfamily.