Cinnabar moth (Tyria jacobaeae)

Cinnabar moth
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Cinnabar moth fact file

Cinnabar moth description

GenusTyria (1)

The cinnabar moth (Tyria jacobaeae) is brightly coloured, with crimson hindwings bordered with dusky black. Its dark grey forewings have a red streak towards the front margin and two red spots on the outer edges (3). The larval form, the caterpillar is even more striking, with a bright orange body and black transverse bands. The head is shiny and black, and the body is covered with short black hairs (2).

Caterpillar length: up to 30 mm (2)
Wingspan: 35-45 mm (3)

Cinnabar moth biology

Adult cinnabar moths fly very late at night, when they are attracted to light. They rest during the day in low vegetation (3) from which they are easily disturbed (4). It is a single-brooded species, with adults present from May to July (3). During June, females lay large batches of eggs on the undersides of ragwort leaves. The caterpillars hatch out in July and are active until August. They pupate in September in cocoons on the ground, and spend the winter in the pupal stage before emerging as adult moths the following May (2). Ragwort is highly poisonous, particularly to horses, and the bright colouration of the caterpillars warns potential predators that they are distasteful, a result of feeding on a poisonous plant (2).


Cinnabar moth range

This moth is widespread and frequently common through much of England and Wales. The cinnabar moth becomes more rare in southern Scotland where it is mainly found in coastal areas (3). This species is widespread throughout Europe (2).

You can view distribution information for this species at the National Biodiversity Network Atlas.

Cinnabar moth habitat

The cinnabar moth is found in meadows, wasteland, road verges and downland where the foodplants ragwort (Senecio jacobaea) and other members of the Senecio genus occur (2).


Cinnabar moth status

The cinnabar moth has yet to be classified by the IUCN Red List.


Cinnabar moth threats

The cinnabar moth is not threatened.


Cinnabar moth conservation

Conservation action has not been targeted at the widespread cinnabar moth.

View information on this species at the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre.
There may be further information about this species available via the National Biodiversity Network Atlas.

Find out more

For more on the cinnabar moth:

  • Skinner, B. (1984) Colour identification guide to moths of the British Isles. Penguin Books Ltd, Hamondsworth.

For more on butterflies and moths:



Information authenticated by Roy Leverton with the support of the British Ecological Society:



A category used in taxonomy, which is below ‘family’ and above ‘species’. A genus tends to contain species that have characteristics in common. The genus forms the first part of a ‘binomial’ Latin species name; the second part is the specific name.
Of the stage in an animal’s lifecycle after it hatches from the egg. Larvae are typically very different in appearance to adults; they are able to feed and move around but are unable to reproduce.
Pupal stage
Stage in an insect’s development, when huge changes occur that reorganise the larval form into the adult form. In butterflies the pupa is also called a chrysalis.
The process of forming a pupa, the stage in an insect’s development, when huge changes occur that reorganise the larval form into the adult form. In butterflies the pupa is also called a chrysalis.
(also known as ‘univoltine’). Insect life cycle that takes 12 months to be complete, and involves a single generation. The egg, larva, pupa or adult over winters as a dormant stage.


  1. National Biodiversity Network Species Dictionary (September 2003):
  2. Carter, D. & Hargreaves, B. (1986) A field guide to caterpillars of butterflies and moths in Britain and Europe. William Collins & Sons Ltd, London.
  3. Skinner, B. (1984) Colour identification guide to moths of the British Isles. Penguin Books Ltd, Harmondsworth.
  4. Leverton, R. (2004) Pers. comm.

Image credit

Cinnabar moth  
Cinnabar moth

© John Bebbington FRPS

John Bebbington
Quantock View
TA10 9SE
United Kingdom


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