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Cinnabar moth (Tyria jacobaeae)

The Cinnabar Moth has striking colours: The forewings are all black with one red line and two red dots. The hind wings are as red as the stripe and dots of the fore wings are. These are warning clours and indeed: the moth is poisonous to birds and other enemies. The wingspan is between 32 and 42 mm. This means it is about the size of the Wall. The only species which look like the Cinnbar Moth are the Burnets. These are black and red coloured moths too, but none of them has a red line in the wing. They only show six or more red dots or other markings. The Burnets are not closely related to the Cinnabar Moth at all, but like the Cinnabar Moth they fly by day.

The adult moths appear by the end of April and are on the wing till August. The first caterpillars appear in July. So adult moths and caterpillars may appear together. The caterpillars are black with yellow or orange bands around their body. They are sometimes referred to as Zebra caterpillars. Measuring up to 30 mm they feed day and night and do not hide at all. They life on Ragwort mainly, but are found on other Senecio species as well. From the plant they store poison in their bodies, which makes thgem inedible for most predators. When a lot of caterpillars attack one Ragwort plant they are capable of destroying it completely. By August the caterpillars are full grown. They drop to the ground and pupate underground. They overwinter in the pupal stage.

The Cinnabar Moth originally lived in Europe and Western and Central Asia. It has been introduced to North America, Australia and New Zealand to control Ragwort. In most of Britain this is a common species, even appearing in gardens and parks.