Cinnabar Moth Caterpillars

Neil Jones neil at
Mon Oct 16 05:23:44 EDT 2006

Spurs Dave wrote:

> Hiya,
> I moved house a couple of years ago (Summer 2004) and straight away
> noticed loads of Cinnabar Moth caterpillars.
> They did well on this particular weed or plant (Is it Ragwort?) but
> this year with at least twenty to thirty caterpillars ssomebody nicked
> the weed or flower for whatever reason.
> Getting to the point I would like to purchase some seeds or cuttings
> from a nursery to replace this annoying loss, so willsomebody kindly
> tell me what attracts them best?
> Many Thanks - Dave Bennett


I note from your email address that you are in the UK. ( the "Spurs" Soccer
club reference is a bit of a give away too and I don't think Americans use
the word "nicked" for stolen. :-))

 Be careful about what you read on the net about ragwort. There is a
hysterical and unscientific campaign organised by certain political groups
to vilify this plant as deadly and highly dangerous. Most of the British
stuff is just copying the pseudoscience. Yes, it is poisonous but in the UK
animal poisonings are rare and despite what you might read the plant is not
dangerous to handle. There are problems abroad where the plant becomes
invasive but these do not apply where it is native.

One of the silliest stories around is that the Cinnabar moth had a
population crash and this has caused a plague of ragwort in the UK.

I can hear the British people here laughing outloud at this.

There has been no crash and no plague.

This has serious environmental consequences, encouraging even more
agricultural intensification. Someone recently tried to get a bill through
the Scottish Parliament to stop farmers exposing their animals to ANY
potentially harmful plant. That, as any entomologist knows, covers a very
large percentage of all our wild flora ,everything from Bluebells to Oak


As to your feeding problem the person who stole your plants was probably
someone taken in by all the propaganda. If this was on your land without
your permission then uprooting the plants without your permission is
illegal under the 1981 Wildlfe and Countryside Act.

The plant is quite common but you can use Oxford Ragwort or Groundsel as
substitutes. The moth does use these occasionally in the wild but due to
their size and technical factors such as metapopulation dynamics they are
very unlikely to be able to support populations of the moth in the long

Neil Jones
Neil at


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