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The Cinnabar Moth

Beautiful Cinnabar Moth

A Day-Flying Moth

A not uncommon sight to see is that of a fluttering and bobbing butterfly dancing above fields of flowers and weeds.

Look closer at that butterfly though, that beautiful red and black butterfly may not be a butterfly at all, it may just be a Cinnabar Moth.


The Cinnabar Moth is named after the mineral, Cinnabar, due to the red color on its wings. Another name for Cinnabar is red mercury sulfide or simply mercury ore.

It is commonly used for jewelry.

Cinnabar Bracelet

Size of the Cinnabar Moth

The Cinnabar Moth is an average size for a moth at about 20mm long,

They have a wingspan of 32-42 mm (1.3-1.7 in).

Size of Cinnabar Moth

Size of Cinnabar Moth

Size of Cinnabar Moth

It's Not a Butterfly?

The Cinnabar Moth has such striking coloring, that many people mistake them for a butterfly, but they are moths. The upper pair of wings are dusky black with a vivid red strip running down the outer edge and two red dots on each wing on the bottom edge. The bottom pair of wings are that same vivid red with black rims. The Cinnabar Moth's body is black.

Red and Black Moth

Red and Black Cinnabar Moth

Red and Black Cinnabar Moth

Dangle Some Cinnabar and Black Onyx

Cinnabar Moth Caterpillar

The Cinnabar caterpillar starts off pale yellow, then later becomes bright yellowish orange with jet black bands around it.

Yellow and Black Caterpillar

Yellow and Black Caterpillar

Yellow and Black Caterpillar

Learn to Identify Caterpillars

What They Eat

Cinnabar Moth caterpillars use the Senecio plant family as foodplants. Because they are voracious eaters, they were introduced to control ragwort and Tansy in some areas, including the Western US, especially the states of Washington and Oregon. This is called biologically controlling the pest plants. Since Cinnabar caterpillars eat so much, they can decimate entire areas of weeds, and then they may even turn on each other if there's nothing else to eat.

Cinnabar Caterpillars on Ragwort

Cinnabar Moth Caterpillars eating Oxford Ragwort, Towneley Park, Burnley

Cinnabar Moth Caterpillars eating Oxford Ragwort, Towneley Park, Burnley

Cinnabar Caterpillars Eating Tansy

Yellow and Black Caterpillars on Tansy

Yellow and Black Caterpillars on Tansy

The Tyria jacobaeae

Cinnabar Moth Caterpillars Eating Tansy

These Cinnabar Moth caterpillars are biologically controlling Tansy on the Highlands Trail in Newcastle, Washington

Cinnabar Moth Caterpillars Silhouetted Against the Setting Sun

Cinnabar Caterpillars

Cinnabar Caterpillars

Learn More about Moths and Butterflies

Cinnabar Comments

Goodness on June 05, 2019:

I just caught 20 caterpillars today, had to let them go because i learmt they are cannibals and dangerous to touch..

boa11kfh on August 15, 2013:

what adaptations does the caterpillar have that allow it to be immune to the toxic ragwort plant?

anonymous on July 13, 2013:

Beautiful pictures. About two weeks ago I found a small patch of weeds, we had mowed, in our field. It has three beautiful yellow to orange and black striped caterpillars. I started looking online and found they are the Cinnabar Moth larva. I have never seen them before. We live near Salem, Oregon. I have taken pictures of them and we are looking forward to watching them turn into moths

anonymous on August 31, 2012:

we had about 35 of these in our garden, i wont let my hubby mow the lawn til they're all gone :) we have 1 left xxxx

anonymous on July 25, 2012:

do they bite that would be some good information becuz ive got a loose cinibar caterpillar in my home. i can't find it and its an adult and soon moth. plz get back to me xx

FallenAngel 483 on June 21, 2012:

I'm lucky enough to have had the moth in my garden a couple of years ago. In the UK Ragwort is classed as a weed and it is a legal requirement that it be destroyed when found. This is making life tough for this gorgeous moth and that is very sad. Thanks for a lovely lens.

anonymous on June 21, 2012:

I found one, and I named my caterpillar "spooky"! :D its black and orange=halloween=scary=spooky!

anonymous on June 21, 2012:

i found one in Germany, and I was wondering if they are "bad" in any way. like do they eat clothes and things like that

anonymous on June 17, 2012:

I had one in my garden today in Liverpool.

anonymous on May 31, 2012:

The kids just caught one in a jar outside in Eugene, Or. They thought it was a butterfly, but because of its wing shape I knew it was a moth. Thank you for the info. here. We looked it up and named it Cinnabar :) Will let it go later today.What a beautiful specimen.

anonymous on May 06, 2012:

Saw about 40 caterpillars a few miles north of Newcastle Washington last year, but didn't know what they were. They are so bright yellow and dark black they're almost scary. Thanks for identifying them. I've been looking for a year now trying to identify them.

jadehorseshoe on December 23, 2011:

A Darling Lens.

workinghome on July 28, 2011:

Great pictures!

anonymous on July 21, 2011:

@anonymous: I live on the wirral, my grandchildren have 2 of these catterpillars, my grandsons have about 30 in a container with grass. But just read they can turn on each other so I better let them know.

anonymous on June 20, 2011:

My son caught one today. I have never seen one before and thought it was kind of a rare sight. But upon further investigation, apparently it is found more commonly in Washington. It sure is pretty and I will make sure that he lets it go.

anonymous on June 01, 2011:

i live in Rhyl, North Wales in The U.K. I saw one 2day. Wonderful colour. And hour later, saw it again!!

anonymous on May 18, 2011:

Thank you for helping me to identify this pretty little moth (that i mistook for a butterfly!) who has been in our garden every day for the past couple of weeks. Every time i hang my washing out it is there on the lawn & normally I am scared of bugs but this one doesn't bother me, nor do i bother it. It never flies away from me & seems quite friendly?!!

Mary Beth Granger from O'Fallon, Missouri, USA on April 01, 2011:

A very colorful moth. Blessed

anonymous on December 07, 2010:

Thanks for the great information, I took photos of one in my garden last week as I love taking photos of flowers, butterflies, bugs, bees etc. We live on a farm in Maihiihi, New Zealand and yes there is ragwort in the area so it is great to know that they eat the plant.

anonymous on October 02, 2010:

My daughter gathered these caterpillars and fed them fresh ragwort weeds and then three of them made cocoons and she is waiting for them to emerge! It has been a fun project so far.

anonymous on July 11, 2010:

@anonymous: We have several in Silverdale, WA. They are beautiful!

anonymous on June 09, 2010:

I have got 2 cinnabar moths in my garden but one has a broken wing so we have got it in our house and have started looking after it. These 2 moths have been coming to my garden every year for 3 years. We expect to see them every year and they never let us down and stay all summer.

It is an honour to enjoy watching these and nowing they like it here. We live in a small town called skelmersdale, West lanashire and didn't expect such a beautiful sight as we rarely ever see a butterfly.

kohuether lm on June 03, 2010:

very, very interesting.I never knew moths could be so pretty!

anonymous on May 31, 2010:

I saw my very first cinnabar moth today while watering my front garden, it must have been getting wet on the bushes and flew out. I was really impessed with it so I caught it gently in my hands to show my Husband who also has never seen one before.

We live in Oxfordshire and upon looking up this moth on Google, it shouldn't really be in this area so we were honoured!

anonymous on May 29, 2010:

found one today in federal way, wa

thanks for the info! he's beautiful.

LarryCoffey LM on March 20, 2010:

Wow... Something so ugly blooms into something so beautiful.