Cinnabar Moth

The medium-sized, day-flying cinnabar moth plays a key role in successfully controlling ragwort, a toxic weed poisonous to livestock. May to August is when you can see it. The moth is named after cinnabar, the red mineral, owing to the red patches on its black wings.

Scientific Classification

  • Class:Insecta
  • Order:Lepidoptera
  • Superfamily:Noctuoidea
  • Family:Erebidae
  • Subfamily:Arctiinae
  • Genus:Tyria
  • Species:T. jacobaeae

Conservation Status

Not EvaluatedNE

Not Evaluated

Data DeficientDD

Data Deficient

Least ConcernLC

Least Concern

Near ThreatenedNT

Near Threatened





Critically EndangeredCR

Critically Endangered

Extinct in the wildEW

Extinct in the wild




Tyria jacobaeae

The cinnabar moth is around 0.79 in (20 mm) long with pinkish-red and black wings. They usually don’t exhibit much variation in patterning, but rarely, the red markings on their wings may be replaced with yellow or the wings could be entirely black, or only the forewing completely red with a black border. The bright colors of the adults and the larvae warn their predators of their toxicity.

Cinnabar Moth Image

Distribution: The moth is endemic to Europe, western and central Asia. Its range further spreads east across the Palearctic region to China and Siberia. It has been introduced in Australia, New Zealand, and North America as a control measure against ragwort, the food of its larva.

Habitat: Open grassy places like railway banks, waste ground, woodland rides, and gardens. But it is predominantly encountered in well-drained rabbit-grazed grasslands, heathlands, and mature sand dunes.          

Cinnabar Moth Picture

Do They Bite/Sting: No.

Lifespan: Just under a year.

Predators: Some species of cuckoo that eat hairy and poisonous caterpillars, crab spiders.

Behavior and Characteristics


The adults feed on nectar while the caterpillars eat ragwort and groundsel.

Life Cycle

Cinnabar Moth Eggs

1. Egg Stage

A female lays around 300 eggs in batches of 30 to 60 on the lower surfaces of ragwort leaves.

2. Larva Stage

Cinnabar Moth Caterpillar

The newly hatched larvae or caterpillars feed from the undersides of the ragwort leaves around the area where the eggs were laid. They absorb poisonous, bitter alkaloids from the plants, assimilating them to make themselves unpalatable. As they get bigger and molt, they eat the flowers and leaves of the said plant. They can be spotted in the open during the day.

They can turn cannibalistic mainly if they face a lack of food sources. The larvae are pale yellow at the beginning and develop orange or yellow and jet-black stripes at later instars. The voracious eaters can reach a size of 1.2 in (30 mm). Low predation rates make vast populations of the caterpillar wipe out entire patches of ragwort.  

3. Pupa Stage

Cinnabar Moth Cocoon

Very few larvae can reach the pupal stage. It is a result of complete consumption of their food sources before reaching maturity and random cannibalistic behavior. They are also preyed upon by a species of ant, Formica polyctena. The pupae spend the winter in cocoons under the ground. Moles can eat them in this stage.

4. Adult Stage

The adults emerge in summer. Their wingspan is 1.3-1.7 in (32-42 mm).

Comparison with Similar Species

Burnet Moths

The wings of the cinnabar moth are more triangular, while that of the burnet moth are more ovular and glossy.


Q. Are cinnabar moths poisonous to humans?

Cinnabar moths are not dangerous to humans. But as they absorb the toxicity of ragwort, they can cause a rash if handled.

Q. Are cinnabar moth caterpillars poisonous to dogs?

Cinnabar moth caterpillars are poisonous to many animals due to their toxicity. It can cause allergic reactions in cats and dogs.

Q. Are cinnabar moth caterpillars poisonous to humans?

Humans usually have mild to moderate reactions to the caterpillars. But they can cause asthma, potentially lethal kidney failures, hemorrhage, and extreme joint inflammations leading to permanent effects on the body of some people.


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