Adult cinnabar moths have remarkably high levels of histamine in their body tissues (700 μg/g)—the substance is often associated with poisonous glands in invertebrates. The histamine is thought to derive from the host plant, ragwort (Senecio jacobaea).
Cinnabar moth larvae feed exclusively on ragwort and accumulate high concentrations of pyrrolizidine alkaloids from the plant, which act as toxins, making both larvae and moths distasteful to many predators. For example, cinnabar moth larvae are immune from attacks by the larvae of common blue butterflies (Polyommatus Icarus), which eat other butterfly larvae but avoid those that feed on ragwort.
Are cinnabar moths beneficial?
Cinnabar moths are beneficial because they pollinate many nectar-rich plants.
Cinnabar moths are so named because their caterpillars feed on ragwort. This plant is toxic to grazing mammals, but the caterpillars have evolved a resistance to it, and their bright coloring advertises their unpalatability to potential predators. The caterpillars can also eat other weedy plants such as groundsel.
The adult moth will visit flowers in search of nectar and, in doing so, will carry pollen from one plant to another, helping with the pollination process.
Are cinnabar moth caterpillars poisonous to dogs?
The cinnabar moth is a beautiful and distinctive insect. However, the caterpillars are toxic to many animals because of their colorful skin and sharp spines.
This could lead to allergy problems in some dogs and cats, who might have an allergic reaction to the caterpillar’s natural defense mechanisms.
They can also cause contact dermatitis in humans that last for months. Cinnabar moth larvae are not poisonous to all animals but can be fatal to some species.
The moth’s larvae are toxic to many animals because of their colorful skin, which is covered in black spikes and bright yellow markings. The spikes contain a poison that deters predators from eating the larvae.
The larvae feed on ragwort, which contains toxins that are poisonous to humans, livestock, and pets. The cinnabar moth absorbs these toxins during its larval stage, which makes it poisonous to eat.
Can you touch a cinnabar moth?
You can touch a cinnabar moth if you want to, but it’s best not to.
The cinnabar moth (Tyria jacobaeae) is a black and orange insect that mimics the toxic monarch butterfly, which birds have learned to avoid. The cinnabar moth, though, isn’t actually poisonous. It’s just that birds have also learned to avoid black and orange insects in general.
But there are good reasons for humans to avoid touching them too. Cinnabar moths eat ragwort plants, which themselves are poisonous. As a result, the moths absorb toxins from their food and store them in their bodies.
These toxins don’t affect the moth at all, but they may irritate your skin if you touch one. If you do decide to handle one of these insects, make sure you wash your hands afterward!
So, Cinnabar moths are unappealing to humans and many animals and thus are rarely eaten by birds or other predators. The defensive strategies employed by the cinnabar moth make it both unpalatable (due to its high alkaloid content) and toxic (due to its high histamine content).