The earlier pictures were taken on my wee compact Canon ixus 970IS, which involved sneaking up on the butterflies. This can be very frustrating when they fly off, but very rewarding when they don't!

Since 2012 I have been using a Panasonic Lumix FZ150, which allows me to zoom in to the butterflies from a couple of metres away.



Thursday, 20 February 2014

Burnet Moths

The Six Spot Burnet Moth, Zygaena filipendulae, is a day-flying moth that is found on meadows and coastal grassland around Britain. It flies between June and August and can be quite common around the coast here.



As the name implies, the moth has six red spots on the upper side of the fore wing. The hind wing, which is only really visible when it is flying, is red with a black border.


The caterpillars feed on Bird's-foot Trefoil, Lotus corniculatus. They are nicely marked and easy to find in the late spring. 


After hibernating for the winter, the caterpillars emerge in the spring and form a yellow cocoon on vegetation or fence posts. They are very easy to spot.


Last year there was great excitement when someone noticed a Narrow-bordered Five-spot Burnet moth, Zygaena lonicerae. Further investigation at the site found a lot more and then people noticed them in various areas of coastal grassland in East Lothian. This is a species that occurs in England and Wales, but it now seems to be extending its range northwards. When we started checking our photographs from the last few years we discovered that the Narrow-bordered Five-spot Burnet moth had been here for some time!!


It is quite strange that they hadn't been noticed before as the cocoon is quite different from the Six-spot Burnet moth.


It just goes to show that we shouldn't become complacent about the wildlife around us and we should always be on the look out for something new or different.

12 comments:

  1. This is without doubt a very beautiful moth,..a species I have admired in books, but have never had the pleasure of discovering in the wild, or any other Burnet moth for that matter. Great photos and commentary Nick, which I will find most useful when identifying cocoon caterpillar and moths.:)

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    1. I am afraid that I take them a little for granted as they are quite common here in the summer.

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  2. That's interesting. I had the pleasure to observe this species a few times last summer, but I didn't know that caterpillars feed on Lotus corniculatus (but I'm quite positive that there were many plants of this species in the area). As an adult, I saw Burnets always on Knautia (arvensis, I think).
    Great blog, looking forward to reading next posts!

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    1. Thanks Eloi. Yes, i have seen them feeding on Scabious. They also like Ragwort - Senecio jacobaea and Knapweed - Centaurea nigra.

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  3. I love your new header. The image is simply amazingly beautiful. Nick, this moth reminds me of the Polka Dot Moth or Oleander Wasp Moth:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Syntomeida_epilais
    They look very similar but are only related within the same order of Lepidoptera. As usual, the images are great!

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    1. Hi Maria. I checked out the Polka Dot Moth and it is very similar. It always interests me how similar niches around the world are occupied by very similar-looking but unrelated species.
      The Orange Tip butterfly in my header was taken in my Dad's woodland. I had been keeping my eye on a chrysalis all last winter and when I went to visit him one time in the spring I discovered that his gardener had cleared the plant it had been on! While I was looking through the debris, this butterfly landed on a Forget-me-not right next to me and posed for a picture. It had me wondering if it was the butterfly that had emerged from the chrysalis!!

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  4. Gardeners are just so trained to pull the weeds out. Yet if we teach them what needs to stay, I'm sure they can understand eventually. Sometimes even WE don't know ourselves which plants need to stay in order for butterflies and moths to breed; and gardeners are just doing their job. I suppose getting acquainted with all the host plants, but most are weeds!

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    1. He's actually quite good at leaving plants for butterflies, etc. The chrysalis was on a dried out seed head on a pile of stones that he wanted to use to repair the driveway. I am sure that I have probably inadvertently destroyed many creatures when I have been tidying the garden!

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  5. Hi Nick, that is a very beautiful moth. You have not visited my blogs because i have not been posting lepidopterans lately, but i do post them occassionally in FB, as we have Lepidoptera group there. Regards.

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    1. Hi Andrea. I think I found that Facebook group. Some great pictures on there. I will keep an eye on that! I have been looking at your blog, but didn't want to comment in case it caused a problem. I have enjoyed seeing the pictures of plants you have posted.

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  6. A very unusual moth. I love the contrast of the red dots on black. Sometimes, simplicity works best, dhowing that "less is actually more".

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    1. Hi Elsie,
      We have a few black and red moths which live in similar habitats. They can be quite common in the summer. I'll see if I can find pictures of some others species.

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