11 March 2013

Cinnabar moth at Iron Gate hut

The cinnabar moth, Tyria jacobaeae, was released over much of New Zealand from 1929–1932 in an attempt to control ragwort, but the moth established good populations only in parts of the southern North Island. In the 1980s, a redistribution programme saw populations become more widespread, but many people still have no idea of the identity of this spectacularly coloured moth.

The moth's host plant, ragwort, has reached far beyond the farmland where it used to be a major weed (and still is in some areas), but biological control agents often have an extraordinary ability to locate their hosts. This cinnabar moth was fluttering around outside Iron Gate hut in the Ruahine range a few days after Christmas 2011.


[28 December 2011, Panasonic Lumix GH1, 100–300 mm at 300 mm, ISO 200, 1/50 at f5.6]

All content © 2013 Pete McGregor

8 comments:

The Elephant's Child said...

A stunning creature. And much, much more environmentally friendly that the cane-toads which were introduced into Oz to control grubs and bugs in the sugar cane fields. They are now a pest themselves.

Zhoen said...

Striking wee flittery one.

pohanginapete said...

Elephant's Child, NZ has more than its share of similar disasters — attempting to control rabbits with weasels, stoats, and ferrets springs to mind. Fortunately, modern biological control programmes are as far removed from those fiascos as an i-phone is from Bell's first phone.

Zhoen, the caterpillars, with their orange and black banding, are striking too.

robin andrea said...

Love the Cinnabar Moth! I saw one once when we were still living up in Washington. I just looked at the photo I took of it the other day, and couldn't remember the name. Thanks for the reminder! Such a memorable beauty.

Relatively Retiring said...

A lovely name for an attractive creature. Could you show us a caterpillar, please?

pohanginapete said...

Robin, they're certainly an attractive addition to our fauna, and given they feed almost exclusively on an introduced weed, their presence here is pretty much completely positive.

RR, if I come across any caterpillars I'll see if I can get a reasonable photograph. Ironically, there isn't a lot of ragwort around now in most easily accessible places, although that's more thanks to another biological control agent, the nondescript little ragwort flea beetle.

butuki said...

Not sure if it's related, or even the Cinnabar Moth itself, but there is a very similar moth here in Japan (now that I think of it I think it has white patches rather than red) that has this slow, hovering way of flying that I love watching. I always wonder, though, why it is that they aren't more easily caught by predators, because they don't fly fast, are slow to react, and even have a hard time taking off. Poisonous perhaps?

pohanginapete said...

Cinnabar moths certainly fly like that, Miguel — they're not the most athletic of insects. You're probably right about their being poisonous, or at least distasteful. I don't imagine they taste pleasant after feeding on ragwort right through their larval stages.