Cinnabar moth

©Bob Coyle

Cinnabar moth caterpillar

Cinnabar moth caterpillar ©Andrew Hankinson

Cinnabar

Scientific name: Tyria jacobaeae
These pretty black and red moths are often confused for butterflies! Their black and yellow caterpillars are a common sight on ragwort plants. The caterpillar’s bright colours warn predators not to eat them, giving a strong signal that they are poisonous!

Species information

Statistics

Wingspan: 3.4-4.6cm

Conservation status

Priority Species under the UK Post-2010 Biodiversity Framework.

When to see

May to August

About

Cinnabar moths start life as yellow and black caterpillars and are particularly fond of munching on ragwort plants. Their bright colours warn predators that they’re poisonous, but they only build up their poison after feeding on the ragwort. The caterpillars spend the winter as cocoons on the ground before emerging as moths in the summer. Cinnabar moths can be seen flying during the day and night and are often mistaken for butterflies.

How to identify

The cinnabar is slate-black with two red spots and two pinky-red stripes on the rounded forewings. Its hindwings are pinky-red and bordered with black. It can be distinguished from the similar burnet moths by its broader wings and red bars instead of spots.

Distribution

Widespread.

Did you know?

The cinnabar is named after the red mineral, Cinnabar, an ore of the metal Mercury.

How people can help

The Wildlife Trusts work closely with farmers and landowners to ensure that our wildlife is protected and to promote wildlife-friendly practices. By working together, we can create Living Landscapes: networks of habitats stretching across town and country that allow wildlife to move about freely and people to enjoy the benefits of nature. Support this greener vision for the future by joining your local Wildlife Trust.

Illustration of a cinnabar moth

Illustration of a cinnabar moth

Corinne Welch