Six-spot burnet moth (Zygaena filipendulae)

Six-spot burnet moth feeding on flower
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Six-spot burnet moth fact file

Six-spot burnet moth description

GenusZygaena (1)

The six-spot burnet moth (Zygaena filipendulae) is a brightly coloured day-flying moth. Its bright colours warn potential predators that it is poisonous. The blackish forewings have a metallic sheen and feature red spots that earn the species its common name (3). Despite the name, however, the number of spots can vary between individuals, and may be fused in some cases (4). The red hind wings have a fine bluish border and the antennae are club-shaped (3). A colour form known as f. flava has yellow spots in place of the normal red ones. Very occasionally, specimens with brown spots are also seen (5).

Wingspan: 25-40 mm (2)

Six-spot burnet moth biology

The six-spot burnet moth lives in colonies, and flies in sunshine from June to August (2). It feeds on the nectar of a large range of flowers, with wild thyme being a particular favourite (3). On overcast days it tends to retreat deep into grasses and can be difficult to spot (4). It is a single-brooded species, and the eggs are laid on bird’s-foot-trefoil. The caterpillars overwinter once, and occasionally twice, before pupating in paper-like cocoons on grass stems before emerging in June (4).


Six-spot burnet moth range

The six-spot burnet moth has a wide distribution in Britain and is fairly common. In Scotland it becomes more of a coastal species (2).

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

Six-spot burnet moth habitat

Found in a range of habitats including meadows with plenty of flowers, chalk downland, sea-cliffs, woodland rides, railway cuttings, disused quarries, and sand hills (2) (1). The six-spot burnet moth seems to prefer sites that have a mix of short and long grass, where there are sheltered sunny patches (3). The larvae need long grasses on which to pupate (1).


Six-spot burnet moth status

The six-spot burnet moth is not threatened (2).


Six-spot burnet moth threats

Although the six-spot burnet moth is not threatened at present, it seems likely that the widespread loss and agricultural improvement of semi-natural grasslands that has taken place will have impacted on this beautiful moth. Loss of ancient grasslands continues to date, while scrub encroachment is also a problem. Furthermore, colonies are vulnerable to drought (3).


Six-spot burnet moth conservation

The burnet study group has been formed to promote the conservation of burnet moths in Scotland (6).

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 butterflies and moths see Butterfly Conservation:



Information authenticated by Dr Mark Young of Aberdeen University
with the support of the British Ecological Society



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 usually are unable to reproduce.
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.
The process of becoming a pupa.
Single brooded
(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 (January 2004):
  2. Skinner, B. (1984) Colour identification guide to the moths of the British Isles. Penguin Books, Harmondsworth.
  3. Edinburgh Biodiversity partnership: Six-spot burnet (January 2004):
  4. (January 2004):
  5. Young, M. (2004) Pers. comm.
  6. The Burnet Study Group (January 2004):

Image credit

Six-spot burnet moth feeding on flower  
Six-spot burnet moth feeding on flower

© Duncan Usher /

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