Day Flying Moths

Cinnabar_moth_(Tyria_jacobaeae) s

Cinnabar Moth (credit: Wikipedia)

Peter Martin, President of Fleet Pond Society, writes:

“Although moths are often thought of as dull and uninteresting, there are some moths that fly during the day and they are usually the more colourful ones. One of these, the Cinnabar Moth, was given its name by a Mr. M. Wilkes in 1773 because of its vermillion colouration.

In the field which borders Fleet Pond Nature Reserve, Ragwort plants can normally be found in June and July. The moth lays some 30 – 40 yellow eggs on the underside of the leaves and when the caterpillars emerge they can easily be spotted, as they are often in clusters and have very distinct bright orange and yellow black bands around their bodies. They are very voracious eaters and can totally consume the Ragwort plants.

Ragwort_and_caterpillars,_Croucheston_-_geograph.org.uk_-_1388879

Flowering Ragwort with Cinnabar moth caterpillars (credit: Wikipedia)

Ragwort contains alkaloid poison and it can kill cattle and horses if consumed. At one time, the Cinnabar caterpillars were exported to Australia and New Zealand to eat the Ragwort plants there before they died and could be eaten by the animals. It is surprising that the poisons do not kill the caterpillars, but these are passed on to the moths as cyanide derivatives which deter birds from eating them.

The moths, which have greyish-black forewings with a vermillion line along the leading edges and two spots on the outer-edges, have hind wings that are all vermillion apart from a greyish-black border. If you are walking round the Pond between late May and July, do go into the part of the field nearest the Reserve and you may see these beautiful slow-flying moths or even the very showy caterpillars.

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2 Responses to Day Flying Moths

  1. Interesting article just wanted to clarify that, whilst ragwort tends to be less palatable to livestock when it is growing, all parts of the plant contain toxic pyrrolizidine alkaloids whether it’s growing or wilted/dead.

    • David Pottinger says:

      I’m glad you liked the article and thanks for the comment (I’ve modified the sentence accordingly).

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