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2011 News

Camouflage, What Camouflage?

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Cinnabar Moth, White Park Bay
I am still searching North Antrim for rare orchids, currently without much success, but I never get fed up looking. There is always something else about to keep entertained. Whilst walking through the dunes at White Park Bay you couldn’t fail to see Cinnabar moths. We are used to wildlife blending into their chosen background to either sneak up on prey or not to become prey themselves. This moth though has another survival approach.

The moth is named after the red mineral cinnabar, the ore of mercury, because of the red patches on its black wings. With this strong black and red colouration it will never win any hide and seek competitions and nor will the caterpillars which are striped yellow and black and are pretty obvious. These colourations acts as a deterrent to predators, saying you can eat me but you won’t like it!

The larval food plant of this species is normally Ragwort, a poisonous species, especially to horses. The larvae absorb bitter tasting alkaloid substances from the Ragwort, and become unpalatable themselves. In fact Cinnabar moths have been introduced to New Zealand and North America to control Ragwort a non-native species in those areas.

Last weekend many on the Cinnabar, looking a bit battered from the winds and rain, where ova positing in sheltered parts of the dunes. This gave me a chance lie down and get into their world for a little while.

I will carry on looking for those orchids, but I will probably keep on getting distracted by something else!