A cinnabar moth

I found a cinnabar moth on a stone beside my back door yesterday.

Cinnabar 1
A relatively common moth with its striking colour patterns

Cinnabar caterpillar 2The caterpillars feed on ragwort.

As many people will know ragwort is a poisonous plant especially to horses – the cinnabar caterpillar absorbs the poisonous alkaloids from the ragwort without effect. However a predator eating a caterpillar or the adult do get poisoned. As a result the caterpillar and the adult are brightly coloured to act as a warning to would be predators.

There is one exception to this – the cuckoo is quite able to feed on the caterpillars of the cinnabar without a detrimental impact.

There are a few other species that superficially resemble the cinnabar – these are the burnet moths. They have similar colouration but feed on bird’s foot trefoil and are therefore not poisonous to predators. A would be predator however is likely to avoid them thinking they are the unpalatable and toxic cinnabar.

6 spot burnet 2
This is a six spot burnet

5 spot burnetThis is a five spot burnet

Narrow bordered 5 spot burnet 2And this is a pair of narrow-bordered 5 spot burnets

The wonders of nature!

2 thoughts on “A cinnabar moth

  1. A cinnabar moth and it’s relationship with ragwort was one of the first things I learnt when I started conservation volunteering. I love them for that and their beautiful colours.

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