Readers’ Wildlife Photos: The Moth Edition

Jonathan Wallace from England sent Jerry some amazing photographs of moths.

As always if you click through twice on a photograph you can see it in its original size.

Jonathan writes:

I thought I’d send you a few pictures around the theme of protective colouration in moths to help top up your tank.

First, two aposematic species, the Six-spot Burnet Moth (Zygaena filipendulae) and the Narrow-bordered Five-spot Burnet Moth (Zygaena lonicerae). 

0169 six-spot burnet

0171 Narrow-bordered Five-spot Burnet bThese moths are noxious to predators such as birds.  As they are closely related I am not sure if they could be said to be mimics (as presumably they could both have inherited the same colour pattern from a common ancestor) but the two species do fly together in grasslands and presumably they reinforce each other’s aposematic signal in the manner of Mullerian mimics.  There are a number of other Zygaena species all with variations on this same colour scheme.

Another two aposematic species the Garden Tiger Moth (Arctia caja).  This species is widespread in the UK but has declined significantly in recent decades.

2057 Garden Tiger b

2057 Garden Tiger c

The Cinnabar Moth (Tyria jacobaea) has conspicuously striped larvae which feed on Common Ragwort (Sennecio jacobaea) from which they sequester toxins.  The adults superficially resemble the Burnet Moths to which they are not closely related.

2069 Cinnabar Moth larva

2452 red underwing

A final picture of a cryptic species.  I guess a majority of moths, certainly in the UK rely to a greater or lesser extent on camouflage to avoid getting eaten.  This one is a V-Pug (Chloroclystis v-ata) resting on a tree branch.  I should state that this is not where I found the moth, which was caught in a light trap and I released it onto the branch.  I was struck by how well it blended in.

1858 v-pug

Thanks Jonathan, for the beautiful photographs and the fascinating comments to go with them.


  1. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted July 26, 2015 at 12:27 pm | Permalink

    Oh, it’s named after the “V” mark on its wing!? Is there a W-ata too?

  2. rickflick
    Posted July 26, 2015 at 2:18 pm | Permalink

    “I should state that this is not where I found the moth”
    You can’t be too careful can you? Kettlewell’s experiment with the peppered moth in the 1950s was criticized and creationists jumped on the issue. But, I think your safe here.

  3. Mark Sturtevant
    Posted July 26, 2015 at 2:23 pm | Permalink

    Wow, those are great pictures. I gotta remember to double click on pictures to really see their full glory.
    There seems to be a story behind the 2nd Burnet moth picture, as they are sitting on an empty cocoon. My guess is that the female was mated ‘on the spot’ after eclosing from the cocoon.

  4. merilee
    Posted July 26, 2015 at 7:20 pm | Permalink


  5. Marella
    Posted July 26, 2015 at 7:51 pm | Permalink

    It’s interesting that regardless of what I would think would be the undoubted benefits of being less symmetrical with regard to markings, it never happens. Obviously having different patterns on either side is just too hard. Or maybe potential mates don’t like it.

    • Posted July 26, 2015 at 9:10 pm | Permalink

      That’s a really good mystery.

    • John Scanlon, FCD
      Posted July 27, 2015 at 12:39 pm | Permalink

      Fin Whales are the largest exceptions, iirc.

  6. majo
    Posted July 27, 2015 at 6:33 am | Permalink

    The Garden Tiger Moth pictures are beautiful. It looks like a dapper middle-aged bachelor ready to head off to the opera. Thanks for the explanations too.

  7. Lurker111
    Posted July 27, 2015 at 7:48 am | Permalink

    One summer the spouse & I noticed a number of these colorful insects flitting about in our neighborhood (Richmond, Va.).

    Zoom on the pics. If you google or yahoo for the moth, you’ll get TONS of great pics.

    When I first tried to ID the insect, I tried looking at all kinds of beetles until my eyes were ready to fall out. Finally found it in the “moths” category of an insect site.

    Bizarre. But wonderfully patterned.

  8. Jonathan Wallace
    Posted July 27, 2015 at 4:21 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for posting these and the kind comments. I would just add that the grey and red moth shown below the Cinnabar caterpillar is a red underwing (Catocala nupta). This species uses the red underwing as a ‘flash’ protection. With the wings closed, resting on a tree trunk it is cryptic but if it is disturbed it suddenly reveals the red underwing which – hopefully – alarms the predator sufficiently to allow the moth to make its escape. The genus Catocala includes a number of species with a similar colour scheme and defensive strategy.

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