This photo will take some explaining.

Ruby Tiger male and Cinnabar female; Murlough NNR; 9 June 2012

A Ruby Tiger… and a Cinnabar. WHAT???!!!

The good news is – both my Cinnabar moths emerged from their pupae on the 4th (“Cindy”) and 8th (“Cecelia”) of June!

The bad news is that when the first one emerged I didn’t realise the critical importance of giving the moth peace and quiet to pump up its wings. The wings of butterflies and moths begin as small sacs which have to be pumped up to full size, flattened and dried over the course of some hours before the moth can fly.  And if you make them feel threatened, which I probably did by coaxing it onto a stick, they stop concentrating on their wings and go into survival mode, staying still or running away.

Cindy

Cindy

And so Cindy never pumped up her wings. It may not have been completely my fault – she struggled to get the exuvium (chrysalis case) off her wing, the abdomen seemed to be lacking most of its black scales and there seemed to be dents on the thorax, suggesting she was deformed anyway. Nevertheless, a wakeup call.

What a depressing story. But you’ll be pleased to know that four mornings later it was a perfectly-formed Cinnabar that emerged from the second pupa!

Cecelia

Cecelia

On 9 June, I returned to the spot where I had collected the original four caterpillars last July, to release Cindy and Cecelia. And this is the part where I explain the photo above.

I had released Cindy and was just about to release Cecelia when a male Ruby Tiger moth came whizzing into the vicinity. Never ceasing to buzz his wings, he landed on my hand started crawling over my sleeve. The strange thing was that his genitals were extruded… obviously he was very excited indeed! Then he began crawling over ragwort plants near where Cindy was, before flying off over the hill and away – just as I managed to clear space on my SD card!

A bit galled at not getting any good photos, I went on with releasing Cecelia… and then the Ruby Tiger returned! This time I caught it to get some photos. When I released it, it got very excited again… and mounted the crippled Cinnabar moth!!!

Ruby Tiger (male) mounting crippled Cinnabar (female), 9 June 2012

Male Ruby Tiger (left) and female Cinnabar (right)

Two moths of different species shouldn’t be doing this. The only explanation for this behaviour is a chemical one. The Ruby Tiger detected a pheremone given off by the female Cinnabar moth, which must have been changed by the moth’s deformity (or the honey water it had been drinking) to be similar to the scent of a female Ruby Tiger moth.

Weird or what?

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