Species of the month

Species of the Month: Cinnabar Moth

Cinnabar moth © Richard Burkmarr

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Our Species of the Month species surveys are an important way you can help us.  Records are sent to DERC (Dorset Environmental Records Centre) who collate this information to build up a picture of the of the state of Dorset's wildlife. So please help us help wildlife by filling in the form below. Thank you!

August Species of the Month: Cinnabar moth

Scientific Name:  Tyria jacobaeae 

Identification

The adults and caterpillars of the Cinnabar moth are brightly coloured and very distinctive! 

The adult is a stunning, red & black, day-flying moth.  The black forewings have a distinctive red line and 2 spots, while the hind wings are red with a black edge. 

The caterpillar is orange/yellow with black hoops, reminiscent of a rugby top! 

Cinnabar moth © Richard Burkmarr

Cinnabar moth © Richard Burkmarr

Cinnabar caterpillar © Margaret Holland

Cinnabar caterpillar © Margaret Holland

Diet

Cinnabar moths are pollinators, feeding on nectar. 

Cinnabar caterpillars eat leaves and are commonly found on ragwort, groundsel and occasionally Colt’s foot. 

Behaviour

Cinnabar moths are found in well-drained grassland and are easily disturbed, flying on sunny days usually between May and August. 

The female can lay up to 300 eggs per day.  These hatch into gregarious caterpillars which can be seen in large numbers between July & September.  The caterpillars are very conspicuous, sitting openly on ragwort and other food plants. 

It overwinters as a pupa, in a flimsy cocoon, either on the ground or just under the soil surface. 

Did you know?

  • Cinnabar moths only have one generation a year but have a long period of emergence. Consequently, newly emerged adults can often be seen at the same time as fully grown caterpillars.  
  • The adult moths were originally named after the bright red mineral ‘cinnabar’ once used by artists as a red pigment for painting. 
  • The yellow and black caterpillar colours, warn predators that they are extremely unpleasant to eat (aposematism).  The caterpillars store the toxins consumed from ragwort leaves in their bodies which makes them taste foul!  These toxins remain in the adult moth, so the red and black colours are also a warning - ‘don’t eat me’!  
  • Ragwort, an important caterpillar foodplant, is controlled in many areas across the UK.  It can be toxic to livestock if eaten in large quantities over a long period of time, or if it is present in contaminated hay.  A study carried out by Butterfly Conservation and Rothamstead research in 2003, revealed that although the distribution of the Cinnabar moth had not changed during the study period (1968-2002), their numbers had dropped dramatically as a result of ragwort control. 

Where can they be found?

Cinnabar moths are found in open habitats including grassland, parks and gardens. 

Look out for these wonderful moths flying amongst grass on sunny days. 

Wildlife gardening tips

  • Make sure your pond has open water to attract adult dragonflies and it is important to include some emergent plants.  Larvae will use these to crawl out of the water and as a platform to moult into adults.  
  • Any sized garden pond is brilliant for wildlife, but to attract large dragonflies its best to follow the mantra ‘the bigger the better’! 
  • It is a good idea to have plants bordering at least one side of the pond to provide cover.  Include nectar rich plants to attract other insects and you will provide your dragonflies with a handy café! 

Join our campaign for more information on how you can help stop the decline of invertebrates:  Take Action for Insects  

Find out about other things you can do to help garden wildlife: Backyard Nature  

Species of the Month sightings form

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Blue tit © Stewart Canham