Nature on our doorsteps: Cinnabar Moths

By Rosaleen Dwyer

Rosaleen Dwyer is the County Heritage Officer at South Dublin County Council – every week she gives us an insight into the natural heritage around us and the beautiful biodiversity of the plants and creatures

Although the Cinnabar Moth is generally a night-time moth, it is sometimes seen in bright sunshine too.

Cinnabar is a toxic mineral ore that yields mercury. In the past, it was also the source of one of the red pigments used by artists in painting.

This Cinnabar Moth was spotted in Ballymount Park in early June. compressor

This Cinnabar Moth was spotted in Ballymount Park in early June

 

The Cinnabar Moth therefore gets its name from the bright red colour of its hind wings. Its front wings are black with a striking pattern of red spots and bars. 

Its caterpillar is just as striking, with the black and orange bands around its body calling to mind the ‘black and amber’ colours of the Kilkenny team. 

After hatching from their eggs, these caterpillars stay together, feeding communally on their preferred food plant, Ragwort.

Ragwort is a poisonous plant for cattle, horses, and sheep. It contains toxic chemical compounds that, when broken down during digestion, cause damage to the animal’s liver.

The striking colours of the Cinnabar Moth caterpillars warn predators to stay away compressor

The striking colours of the Cinnabar Moth caterpillars warn predators to stay away

When feeding on Ragwort, the Cinnabar caterpillar accumulates this toxic compound without harm, making them, and the adult moth, taste very unpleasant to potential predators. 

Throughout the last century, when efforts were made in law to control Ragwort due to its toxic effects, numbers of Cinnabar Moths dropped very low. 

As eradication efforts died away over the last 20 years, however, Cinnabars are slowly beginning to show an increase once again.   

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