Monday, 7 July 2014

Cinnabar Caterpillars

Cinnabar Caterpillar, Tyria jacobaeae

I saw a photo of a group of Cinnabar caterpillars on our BWC Flickr group page, and it made me want to go and photograph them too. One thing I am guilty of here is getting so wrapped up in our animals I sometimes forget the "wild" wildlife around the centre, of which there is plenty.

In fairness to me, I don't really have the time to wait for the wild wildlife, but with these caterpillars being a guaranteed sighting I went down to our nature reserve yesterday evening with my camera.

Group of Caterpillars on Ragwort - by Sharon Bennet

This photo above is not mine, it was taken by Sharon Bennet known as Fruitbat111 on Flickr. When I saw it last week it really grabbed my eye. Not only is it a really good photo,  it shows off some of our other creatures around the Centre and shows other people to keep their eyes open when walking around our Wetland Boardwalk. It also shows a real mass of the caterpillars vying for the last bit of good food on this ragwort plant... Brilliant! Click on Sharon's name above to see more of her photos on Flickr.

Feeding on Ragwort

So with the inspiration of that photo in my mind, I spent half an hour with Bess and these caterpillars on the reserve last night. 

The very top photo is one of my favourites from the night, just a simple portrait, but it does what it is supposed to. I tried to vary up the shots as much as possible... I really try to work a set when I can, and even the same caterpillar on the same plant can lead to a variety of pictures.

Feeding on Ragwort

These caterpillars turn into the beautiful black moths with red dots and stripes on their wings; the Cinnabar Moth. A moth that is often seen out in the day. I will try and get a photo of one to show you.

Close-up of Caterpillar

These caterpillars are feeding themselves up before the winter, when they will cocoon themselves in the ground until the following spring. They then emerge as moths around May time, and will mate and lay eggs through the summer.

Feeding in the Sun

The moths lay their eggs on the underside of the leaves of ragwort, and when they hatch will eat the leaves and eventually move up and eat the flowers too. It is very common to see a plant covered in these caterpillars, and they will decimate it surprisingly quickly with enough of them on there at the same time.

Cinnabar Caterpillar

These caterpillars start of as a very pale yellow colour, and develop their black stripes as they grow. As with all caterpillars, they go through moults as they grow before going in to their cocoon.

Cinnabar Caterpillar

The ragwort leaves are poisonous to a lot of animals, but this caterpillar loves them!.. and even stores the poison in their bodies. Not only this, but they keep the poison stored even when they turn into a moth.

If any predators ignore the yellow and black warning of the caterpillar, or the red and black warning of the moth, they soon spit it out again due to the foul taste.

Sharing the Ragwort

They are great things to watch, and show even the worst seen plants are there for a purpose. I'll see if I can find more and at different stages to photograph over the next few weeks.

Thanks to Sharon for allowing me to share her photo and thanks for looking.

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