The Cinnabar, a red and black mainly night-flying moth often
disturbed/seen in the day, is Britain's most poisonous moth
and caterpillar (to birds/predators).
Despite the presence of a small area of Oxford ragwort, Cinnabar caterpillars and moths had not been recorded in the Totteridge Fields until June 2008, when this one individual was seen.
By 2011, the ragwort in the Fields had increased and Cinnabar caterpillars were prevalent. The numerous yellow and black caterpillars feed voraciously on ragwort from which the larvae absorb the plant's poison (and retain it to adulthood). They have been exported to Australasia and North America for ragwort control. Many caterpillars die of starvation once the ragworts have been stripped; some turn to cannibalism; a few make it to moth-hood. The bright colours of caterpillar and moth are to warn predators that they are poisonous.
Many thanks to Bob Clark for the Cinnabar moths
immediately above and caterpillars below, including his "trademark" shots of the subject on his own hand/finger.
Bob explains: "Am seeing more and more cinnabar caterpillars on ragwort in my particular South London butterfly haunt . . . Exposed as they often are on ragwort plants on pathways which could be brushed by passers-by or 'strimmerman'. I lift and transpose them to safer ragwort homes."
Cinnabar moth wingspan: 32-42 mm; UK flight time: May-Jul.
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