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CINNABAR: Moths and butterflies enjoying a comeback

Friday 16th July 2021

EXPERTS are all aflutter.

Following the long hot summer of 2020, the last 15 months are being hailed as the best period for 25 years for butterflies in the UK.

Many species not seen in healthy numbers since records started in 1929, have been making an extraordinary come-back, many emerging unusually early and confirming their reputation as weather opportunists.

The Cinnabar, actually a moth (Tyria jacobaeae), but often mistaken for a butterfly, is one species relishing the summer sunshine and has been spotted by many nature watchers in the Maidstone area this year.

Cinnabar numbers have declined dramatically over the last 50 years, perhaps, because it feeds on ragwort, the tall, yellow flowering plant which is poisonous to livestock, particularly horses. By law, landowners must remove it if it is likely to infect neighbouring property.

The Cinnabar starts life as a yellow and black caterpillar. The bold colours warn predators that they are poisonous, as indeed they are, absorbing the poison from the ragwort. 

Slate black in colour, with two red stripes on the forewings, the hindwings are red and bordered with black.

One observer said: “This little guy has been visiting our garden regularly. I have never seen a butterfly like this. It is so bright and beautiful.”

Butterfly expert Beth Hannant-McCausland said the moth will have evolved its striking colours to ward off predators.

The Langley resident said: “Insects with red or orange colouring is nature’s way of deterring predators – it sets off an alarm response.

“People are talking about this little moth because they are seeing it for the first time.

Its distribution is really quite widespread, but it must be thriving in this area because its food source must also be doing well. The two always go hand in hand.”


PICTURE: The Cinnabar moth. Credit Richard Burkmar/Kent Wildlife Trust