Posts Tagged ‘moths’

If you’re out and about on a nice sunny day and notice what you think is a pretty red and black butterfly it is actually the Cinnabar moth (Tyria Jacobaeae).

The Cinnabar moth (Tyria Jacobaeae) was originally named after the bright red mineral ‘cinnabar’ once used by artists as a red pigment for painting.

The adult moth has two bright red spots and red stripes on its forewings and scarlet hind wings with charcoal edging. Moths are split into 2 broad groups – the macro moths (large) and the micro moths (small). The Cinnabar is a macro moth and has a body length of 20mm and a wingspan of between 32mm – 42mm. Although this is a predominantly nocturnal moth it can also be seen during the day.

Cinnabar moth (Tyria Jacobaeae) © Clare Dinham

Life cycle

Females can lay up to 300 eggs, usually in batches of 30 or 60 on the underside of ragwort leaves. When the caterpillars (larvae) hatch they feed on the around the area of the hatched eggs but as they get bigger and moult (instars) they mainly feed on the leaves and flowers of the plant, and can be seen out in the open during the day.


Caterpillars are feeding from July – early September and are initially pale yellow but soon develop bright yellow and black stripes to deter predators.

Cinnabar moth caterpillar (Tyria Jacobaeae) © Roger Key

The caterpillars feed on poisonous ragwort leaves. The poision from the leaves is stored in the caterpillars body (and even remains when they are an adult moth). Any birds or other predators that ignore the caterpillars bright warning sign will be repulsed by how foul they taste.

Numerous caterpillars on one ragwort plant can reduced it to a bare stem very quickly. They are also known to be cannibalistic.

The caterpillars overwinter as pupa in a cocoon under the ground. The adult moths emerge around mid May and are on the wing up until early August, during which time males and females will mate and eggs are laid.

Distribution and Habitat

The Cinnabar moth is a common species, well distributed throughout the UK and has a coastal distribution in the northern most counties of England and Scotland. Due to its toxicity to livestock Ragwort is being controlled in many areas across the UK. A study carried out by Butterfly Conservation and Rothamstead research in 2003 showed that although the distribution of the Cinnabar moth has remained roughly the same between the study period of 1968 – 2002 their numbers have dropped dramatically due to the persecution of their food plant Ragwort.

Cinnabar moths are found in typically well drained rabbit grazed (short sward) grassland including sand dunes and heathland and lots of other open habitats such as gardens and woodland rides.

Moth trapping

Cinnabar moths are attracted to moth traps which is the main way of recording moths. A moth trap is essentially a light trap which is set in the evening just before dusk and left on throughout the night. Any moths found within the trap can be studied the following morning and released without harming.

Moth trapping using a light trap © Clare Dinham

National Moth Night

Moth night is an annual event carried out across the country aimed at raising the awareness of moths among the public. This year it was carried out from the 21st – 23rd of June. Click on this link to find out more about National Moth Night

With thanks to Buglife for their contribution. To find out more about Buglife visit them at;





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As day turns to dusk, here at Meet the Species HQ we’re itching to flutter off into the night. Perhaps the most beautiful and colourful day of our finale, we hope our Butterflies and Moths day has added a bit of brightness to the grey & rainy day we’re having! Butterflies & Moths are great and nearly everyone in the UK should have experience of seeing them. If you haven’t, then here’s our last top tip for the day…… When you go to bed tonight throw your window and curtains open, leaving the lights ablaze and you’re almost guaranteed to be joined by a Moth or two! And don’t forget that we’re on a mission to identify, record and protect Butterflies & Moths, so any unusual finds; put them onto iSpot then delicately let them go!

What’s on tomorrow?

Now we don’t know about you but today has tired us out, all of that flapping and flittering around! So join us down at ground level tomorrow, for our Fungi, Moss & Lichen day. You might even be in for a yummy treat!

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A few more iSpotters entries helping tick more species off our list! Keep ’em coming by uploading your species photos to iSpot using the meet the species tag!

House MothButterfly 1grassmothWhite with small blue spotspeacock1bfly1

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Films by Rachel Henson and Neil Manuell

Music by Bernd Rest

Wildlife Footage by Judith Barnard

Film commission by Discovering Places, National Trust and Natural England and part of the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad

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Gwen Potter works for the National Trusts and tells us why moths are better than butterflies (but butterflies are still brilliant)!

Everyone loves butterflies but British moths are ugly and only come out at night – right?

Wrong! Some of the most beautiful Lepidoptera (posh name for moths) are moths, such as the  spotty red, brown and cream Garden Tiger or bright pink and green Elephant Hawkmoth. Of course, our butterflies are amazing too, and fantastic for beginners to start looking at insects – even their behaviour can help identify them. If you see two blue butterflies dancing near a holly tree, you know they are likely to be male Holly Blues fighting over territory. If you see a purple butterfly high up in the trees, it is probably a Purple Hairstreak.

Holly Blue – Photo courtesy Deanster1983

Moths and butterflies are incredibly varied and their behaviour is fascinating and bizarre. The female Vapourer, for example, cannot fly as she has no wings – the male have extremely feathery antennae to be able to smell her from thousands of metres away. Then, you have the Six-belted clearwing which does a very good impression of a wasp to avoid being attacked – clear wings, black and yellow stripes and all. The Silver Studded Blue butterfly caterpillars produce a sugary honeydew that ants feed on – the ants will take the caterpillar to their nest, where the caterpillar is protected by the ants. The hardest thing with butterflies and moths is knowing when to stop – butterflies (around 67 species in the UK); macro moths (an additional 880 species) or micro moths (1500 more species). That’s not even counting the caterpillars or all their stages (sometimes five different caterpillars for one moth)!

Vapourer moth caterpillar – photo courtesy bramblejungle

You’ve probably noticed by now that moths have the most amazing names – how does ‘Setaceous Hebrew Character’ or ‘Splendid Brocade’ grab you? What about the romantic ‘True Lovers’ Knot’, the actually ‘spectacled’ ‘Spectacle’ or the enigmatic ‘Traveler’, Of course, the names are a tiny part of the story, they actually look as beautiful as they sound, with their intense patterns and colours, always shining when the light hits them. They somehow seem more beautiful because of how ephemeral they are. My personal favourite is the ‘Clouded Buff’, which is bright yellow but looks like it is wearing a little bit of bright pink lipstick on its wings. Ruddy Highflyer seems like an exclamation you might shout as yet another creature flitters away from your grasp, but it’s also a name!

Clouded Buff – Diacrisia sannio – Photo courtesy naturalhistoryman

So how do you catch these creatures? Well, a butterfly net is handy for the daytime, but in the evening have an old white sheet out near a light as it starts to get dark – you will be amazed at what comes to your garden, any time of year! Note down the features and colours of the moths you see. From there, it’s good to get hold of a moth book (The Concise Guide to Moths, including all UK species is around £12 while the FSC Guide to Butterflies includes nearly all common UK species and is around £2.75. Then you’ll be well on your way and joining your local moth group before you know it.

Good luck!

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Films by Rachel Henson and Neil Manuell

Music by Bernd Rest

Wildlife Footage by Getty Images

Film commission by Discovering Places, National Trust and Natural England and part of the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad

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If you see a group of people in the woods at night with bright lights, they are probably up to no good right? Not necesarily! They could be your local moth group out searching for some of the UK’s 2,400 species of moth. Here’s how the Avon Moth Group got on at Bristol BioBlitz: one of our Meet the Species feature events!

Record your moths with Meet the Species to help us tick off our big list by uploading your photos to iSpot – just click on ‘send us your species’ on the bar to the right.

If you’re an experience moth-er and you would like to send us a species list with date found and location (rather than filling in each one on iSpot), please email your list to matt@bnhc.org.uk

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