Tag Archive: Cinnabar

Absolutely extraordinary

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.



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!



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?

Ruby Tiger (project 2B), Murlough, 13 Jul 2011

I usually name my children. (!!!) Say hi to “Ron” 🙂

For those of you who haven’t been following this blog and/or don’t know me, one of my favourite hobbies is rearing caterpillars. It all started when I was primary school age: during the summer the nasturtiums in our garden would become infested with Large White butterfly caterpillars. One time I decided to collect three of them, put them in a container which was supposed to be used as a wormery along with some nasturtium leaves, and see what would happen.

Unfortunately I never got to see what happened – they all escaped (I suspect my sister had a hand in it, but I’m not sure) and the two that we found crawling around upstairs were promptly placed back outside.

Although nothing came of it and although I never made any notes and although I haven’t even the foggiest idea what year it happened, I consider it such a pivotal moment in my life that I called it “Project 1A”.


Since then, I’ve worked with more or less 22 species of butterfly or moth. The projects may be rearing projects like Project 1A should have been – I find the caterpillars full grown, young or sometimes not even hatched out of their eggs, and take them home. I feed them leaves and keep them in sheltered containers as they grow, pupate (enter the ‘crysalis’ stage of metamorphosis) and eventually emerge as butterflies or moths. Then I release them exactly where I found them.

My first major project, when my ‘inner butterfly’ at last fluttered into live in late 2009, was my ‘Brown Furry Caterpillar Experiment’ (project 2A). I described this project in detail in my post last year “My caterpillar rearing projects: Ruby Tiger“. It involved 8 Ruby Tiger caterpillars which I collected from Murlough NNR – half I kept outside over the winter where they hibernated, while the other half I kept indoors. In the warm conditions the latter four began the pupation process. I hoped that they would all turn into moths, that they would mate and I would be able to release lots of eggs in the spring! Sadly two had parasites, and another died for no apparent reason, leaving only “Ruby-wan-kanobe” – she emerged from her pupa as a beautiful little red-brown moth but had no-one to mate with.

Happily one of the outside caterpillars, “Ricky”, successfully pupated and was released back where I found it in Murlough in the springtime.

Since then the Ruby Tiger caterpillar has become the figurehead of my blog.

Blog Figurehead: Ruby Tiger caterpillar (project 2A), 20 Feb 2010

Recognise him?

Not all of my projects are so extensive as that one. Sometimes I just collect pupae and give them a bit of safety in a jar until they emerge. In some cases the project just consists of keeping an eye on a particular species in an area (eg. the Marsh Fritillary, project 6. In this case it would be illegal for me to collect the caterpillars as it’s an endangered species).On one occasion I collected sawfly larvae (related to wasps, bees and ants) by accident (project 14A). Another time I collected a dead Knotgrass caterpillar, thinking it was alive (project 10A)!

Unfortunately the living ones don’t all make it – disclaimer: this is usually not my fault. Oftentimes they’ve been parasitised by ichneumon ‘wasps’, Tachinid flies or had fungal infections.

But I admit, I have had some ‘haemolymph on my hands’ (that’s insect blood, spot the entomological metaphor-hijack). It’s never intentional – last summer I collected a whole batch of Cinnabar moth eggs by accident (they were on a Ragwort leaf which I collected to feed my Garden Tiger and Ruby Tiger, projects 5B and 2B). It is incredibly hard to muck out a jar with twenty-six tiny caterpillars in it, and in the unsanitary conditions I lost them all (project 15A).

Cinnabar caterpillars (project 15A), 27 Jun 2011

Lovely things caught in unfortunate circumstance


But “what about now, what about today?

The story is…

Project 13B: Mother of Pearl (Pleuroptya ruralis)
Sadly this caterpillar, which I collected from the nettles in my neighbour’s garden a few months ago, has died while preparing to pupate. I don’t know what killed it.

Project 15B: Cinnabar (Tyria jacobaeae)
After the disaster with the batch of 26 eggs, I collected four large, healthy caterpillars from Murlough, two of which successfully pupated and are still pupae at this very moment in time. As with all my other pupae, they are in soil in a jar in my back yard, and when they emerge it’ll be a matter of taking lots of good photos and releasing them back where I found them.

Project 16A: Buff Ermine (Spilosoma luteum)
This is probably one of my most successful projects: I found two of this species of caterpillar in my back garden (they were quie young) and fed them various weeds as they grow from 25mm to over 40mm. Like the Cinnabars, they have spent the winter as pupae, and appear to be still healthy.

Project 17A: No-one has the foggiest idea what this one was.
Five large plain green caterpillars on a very distinctive scented herbaceous plant, and I don’t know what either of them are. I posted pictures on Back Garden Moths to see if anyone on this forum could identify the caterpillars – but to no avail. One of the larvae, “Pippin”, I collected and it pupated but unfortunately died. This was the pupa I described in my posts “Gutted” and “Ungutted” – I thought it was dead, then I thought it moved (as pupae of the Noctuid family can). Now I’m sure it’s dead – it appears to be decomposing. Yuk.

Projects 18A and 19A: Garden Carpet and/or Flame Carpet (Xanthorhoe sp.)
A green ‘looper’ caterpillar I found on the wall in my back yard is now a pupa – this is project 18A. I don’t know whether it’s the same species as the five loopers I had on a wild plant in my back yard around the same time (project 19A), two of which I collected for pupation but which died. Hopefully the pupa has survived the winter and should emerge soon and shed some light on this identification mystery.

Project 21A: Lesser Yellow Underwing (Noctua comes)
The pupa, which I found as a caterpillar in my back yard earlier this year, is still healthy – it wiggles when I touch it! It will probably be the last of my pupae to emerge.

Project 22A: Wood Tiger (Parasemia plantaginis)
This project began and ended last weekend at the family caravan at Murlough. I collected one Wood Tiger caterpillar from Murlough on the Saturday and it began pupation prep: spinning a silk pad on its container as a base for a cocoon to pupate in. I decided to release it the next day as I already have too much on my plate! Besides, it will be much happier to emerge in the place where it belongs, and not have to endure a car journey from Newcastle to Belfast and back!

This has probably been the longest post I have ever written! Please don’t tell my teachers I spent two hours doing this when I should have been revising!!

On a general note…

Here in Belfast the sun’s coming out.

At last.

I arrived back home from Newcastle on Friday and am getting caught up on blogging. It’s been a cracker holiday – plenty of sunshine and of course plenty of butterflies, moths and birds.

There’s a LOT to catch up on as regards my rearing projects. If you remember, at the end of June, I picked up:

  • 1 Ruby Tiger caterpillar
  • 2 Garden Tiger caterpillars
  • 26 Cinnabar eggs

And there’s good news and bad news.

  • The Ruby Tiger (“Ron”) spun a cocoon on the day I collected him, pupated a few days later, and emerged as a healthy adult on 13 July. I released him where I found him, back in Murlough.
  • I fed the Garden Tigers (Ferrari and Maclaren) on hawks-beard, sorrel, dock and dandelion for a week, after which Ferrari escaped and hasn’t been seen since. (I hope he got out through a window.) Mac spun a cocoon and pupated for 17 days before emerging as an absolutely magnificent moth on 18 July. I released him the next day.
  • Between 22 and 25 Cinnabars hatched out but as I was away in Scotland I was unable to muck out the jar (and hadn’t the heart to lay the task upon my sister) and in the filthy conditions I suspect a bacterial infection started. As they grew (devouring Ragwort leaves) they got sick and died one by one (I won’t go into graphic details) until I only had 3 left. At this point I released them back into Murlough to give them a fighting chance, although I expect it was too late and they were already infected. So I tried again, collecting just four caterpillars from Murlough and this time there isn’t a sick caterpillar in sight. All four have completed their feeding; two have pupated and two are about to. They’ll hibernate as pupae over the winter and emerge next June. One thing’s for sure, I’m never collecting a batch of eggs again!

And here they are (hover over pics to see info):

13JUL11 Ruby Tiger

18JUL11 Garden Tiger

19JUL11 Garden Tiger

28JUL11 Cinnabar caterpillars

28JUL11 Cinnabar pupa

So what of the month ahead? Well, I’m starting to warm to the world of birdwatching, and I’m hoping to see the winter waders arrive at Dundrum Bay and Belfast Harbour, as well as seeing the terns before they leave. On the butterfly front, I’m trying to slow down and focus on butterfly behaviour rather than just running around recording which, although necessary, runs the risk of turning a beautiful creature into a number on a page. I’m hoping to go on a BCNI outing on 20 August to see the Wall butterfly at Sheepland  near Ardglass, and of course I’ll be keeping an eye out for rare migrants like the Clouded Yellow (only one seen here so far this year) and Comma. Plus, the moths are continuing to dazzle: last night in the garden I had 6 Mother of Pearl, a Burnished Brass, a Marbled Beauty (new) and a Swallowtailed Moth.

All the photos I’ve posted on this website are available at 12 or 14MP resolution – just drop me an email: periodicsam@hotmail.co.uk

Species study 2, project B: Ruby Tiger (Phragmatobia fuliginosa)
Species study 5, project B: Garden Tiger (Arctia caja)
Species study 15, project A: Cinnabar (Tyria jacobaeae)

Tout arrive!

Everything’s happening! The first piece of news is that yesterday I saw 30 Ringlets in one field in Glencairn Park, near my house in Belfast! That’s my 15th butterfly species – and I thought I’d caught up with Richella Duggan (www.butterflyblog2011.com) until I looked today and saw she’d grabbed 4 more species!

In other news, I have about 4 caterpillar projects going on at the minute, some of which I mentioned in a previous entry:

  • My two Garden Tiger caterpillars (Ferrari and Maclaren) are still gorging themselves on dandelion leaves…
  • My Ruby Tiger (Ron) pupated on Wednesday, 3 days after spinning the cocoon…
  • My Cinnabar eggs have all hatched this morning!!! There’s at least 20 of them – I won’t be alble to count them properly until they’ve grown a bit as they’re so tiny that I can’t handle them…
  • And on top of all that there’s an egg on my apple sapling (Seth) that looks about to hatch. The brown head of the caterpillar is visible through the eggshell, so it could well be Diurnea fagella, like the pupa I overwintered recently.

And today (or tomorrow)  I’m off to Murlough to try and find a Common Blue and a Meadow Brown and with an extreme amount of good fortune, our regular migrants The Admiral And Lady. My dad (God bless him) got me a new camera since my old one packed in, so I’ll be trying it out this weekend.

I’ve got some BEAUTIFUL photos of the Cinnabar eggs so I’ll be updating this blog as soon as I can get them on the computer.


UPDATE: Foties!!!!

Species study 2, project B: Ruby Tiger (Phragmatobia fuliginosa)
Species study 5, project B: Garden Tiger (Arctia caja)
Species study 15, project A: Cinnabar (Tyria jacobaeae)

19JUN11 Small Elephant Hawkmoth

Apologies for the image quality – but isn’t that a beautiful moth?

It was certainly worth getting up at 3:15 am for! This Small Elephant Hawkmoth was feeding on honeysuckle in Murlough yesterday morning.

My camera is playing up at the moment and the photos come out covered in white lines. Must be a fault with the CCD chip. The videos were fine until I shook the camera a bit too hard and now it looks like I’ve disconnected the CCD completely! Hopefully a bit more shaking will re-connect it!

And I also saw my 14th butterfly species of the year yesterday – 3 jazzy new Dark Green Fritillaries zooming around Murlough. Here’s a photo from last year.

26JUN10 Dark Green Fritillaries

The other thing that happened yesterday was that I collected 3 caterpillars to rear: two Garden Tigers (“Ferrari” and “Maclaren”) and a Ruby Tiger (“Ron”). The GTs have been eating like crazy while Ron has spun himself a cocoon to pupate in. I suspect that they all might have parasites as they are leaving pupation very late (a sign of parasitisation) but I’m hoping they’re all OK and they’ll turn into three beautiful moths!

I didn’t realise it at the time but I also collected 26 little yellow eggs which had been laid on the Ragwort which the caterpillars were eating. They’re probably Cinnabar moths.

What – a – time for my camera to go wibbly.


Species study 2, project B: Ruby Tiger (Phragmatobia fuliginosa)
Species study 5, project B: Garden Tiger (Arctia caja)
Species study 15, project A: Cinnabar (Tyria jacobaeae)