Cinnabar Moths Are Perfectly Named For Their Striking Red And Black Looks

This species is so named due to the colour of the hindwings and the markings on the forewings which make it unmistakeable. There is little variation although on rare occasions the pinkish markings are replaced with yellow, or the forewing is red with a black border or the wings are completely black. Easily disturbed by day and flies in sunshine. Also flies after dark

The cinnabar is well-known for its love of ragwort plants – look for a striking black-and-red moth that flies during both day and night in grasslands, gardens, waste ground, pastures and hedgerows. It is a moth of rough grassland and hedgerows, gardens and waste ground, where the black-and-yellow-banded caterpillars feed on common ragwort, other ragworts and groundsels. Adults are on the wing during the summer, flying in the sunshine, but also at night. They are easily disturbed, fluttering up from their feeding plants. The caterpillars pupate in autumn, spending the winter as cocoons on the ground, before emerging as moths the following summer. The bright colouring of the adults and caterpillars warns predators that they are unpalatable, having ingested the poisonous ragwort plants.

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

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Maybe it’s because moths are usually out at night when the lighting isn’t the best (to say the least), but somehow I’ve always gotten it into my head that moths are the brown and boring ones, and butterflies are the pretty ones. I’m happy to be learning that such an assumption is completely wrong. I mean, if you had asked me to identify this insect with vivid red and black wings, I probably would have defaulted to butterfly.

And I would have been wrong. This is a cinnabar moth. It is possible to make an educated guess between moth and butterfly by sight, but it has nothing to do with the colors. Moths often have wider, furrier bodies and their wings lay flat when they are at rest.These moths are named after the mineral cinnabar, which is an ore of mercury. So yeah, it’s very toxic, but it’s also known for its bright red color. In the days before synthetic dyes and a modern understanding of toxicity, cinnabar was prized in jewellery and as a pigment. These days, it’s still mined and heated to create liquid mercury, but we don’t use it as a pigment

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