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The Burnet Moth

Common Name: Six Spot Burnet Moth

Latin Name: Zygaena filipendulae


Description: The most distinguishing characters of the Burnet Moth are its six red spots (occasionally yellow or even black) on the forewing with the two front spots merged into one. The forewings are dark metallic green. The hind wings are of an intensive red with a blackish fringe. Its bright colours protect it by warning birds and other predators that they are poisonous. Its antennae, rather unusually for a moth, are club-shaped. They are used for feeling and smelling.
The moth reaches a wingspan of about 25-39mm.

Habitat: The Burnet Moth appears in many parts of Europe. It is found throughout England and the coasts of Wales and Scotland. In Scotland, it is mainly seen near the coast in dune grasslands, flower-rich meadows, down land and heath land, where it can find the wild flowers that the larva feeds on. Other preferred areas are chalk down land, sea-cliffs, woodland rides, railway cuttings, disused quarries, and sand hills. It generally favours sites that have a mix of short and long grass. In poor weather, it rests exposed.

Biology: The moth feeds on ragwort, angelica, thistles, and knapweed, drinking nectar from the plants by using their proboscis. The larva feeds on the bird’s foot trefoil, clover, and kidney vetch.

Unlike most moths, it flies on warm sunny days with a slow fluttering flight and is therefore often mistaken for a butterfly. On overcast days it retreats deep into grasses and can be difficult to spot.

The Burnet Moth lives in colonies.

It has four different stages in its life cycle. From July until August, the female moth lays eggs on its food plant. The larva hatches within a few days and starts feeding right up until the autumn. It then hibernates through the winter on its food plant. In springtime, it then starts feeding again and is fully grown by June. While they are growing, the larva moults several times. Feeding is almost a non-stop activity apart from a day or two to rest at each moult and it grows quickly. Some of them remain as larvae and can hibernate through a second winter. The fully-grown larva spins a cocoon with silk from its spinneret, a special gland near its mouth. The tough straw-coloured cocoon is attached high up a dried grass stem. It then change into a pupa inside the cocoon. Inside the pupa, the body of the larva breaks down and it reforms into the body of an adult moth. The adult moth emerges from July until August. Once it has mated and the female has laid eggs, the adult dies.