The colour that says stay away

Macclesfield Express - - WILDLIFE -

ISN’T sum­mer bril­liant?

For­get the rain, look at the lovely colours – in your gar­den, in wood­land and in lo­cal mead­ows.

At the mo­ment there are some as­tound­ing dis­plays of flow­ers in­clud­ing the con­tro­ver­sial but beau­ti­ful rag­wort. Horse own­ers are cau­tious about horses graz­ing on rag­wort. While many horses avoid the liv­ing plant it can cause se­ri­ous liver prob­lems if eaten in hay.

Sci­en­tists have dis­puted the ex­tent of the prob­lem but I would not want any sin­gle horse to die a painful death, so there should be some cau­tion with this plant.

A lot of plants are toxic and rag­wort is a beau­ti­ful yel­low flow­er­ing type and it is plen­ti­ful on our na­ture re­serves.

But I want to look a lit­tle deeper than the rag­wort and look at a colour­ful crea­ture that can be seen feed­ing on it. If you look be­neath the flow­ers of the rag­wort you will see an amaz­ing cater­pil­lar feed­ing there.

At this time of year there are hun­dreds – or thou­sands – of yel­low and black cinnabar cater­pil­lars cling­ing on to the dark green stems.

Out of about 100 plants I spot­ted at Brock­holes, in Pre­ston, this week, more than 20 were in­hab­ited by up to five or six cinnabars. It is such a lovely sur­prise to find them there.

The yel­low and black hoops of the cinnabar are a warn­ing to preda­tors that they are not pleas­ant to eat hav­ing di­gested the poi­sonous rag­wort.

This warn­ing colour means that lots of the cater­pil­lars will sur­vive to pu­pate in au­tumn, spend win­ter as co­coons and then turn into another won­der­fully coloured cre­ation by sum­mer.

Yes, the yel­low and black cater­pil­lars will be next year’s red and black cinnabar moths fly­ing around rough grass­land, hedges, gar­den and waste ground. They are dif­fi­cult to miss as they ap­pear to be red but­ter­flies fly­ing in day­time but they are moths.

The cinnabar is slate black with a pair of red spots and two pinky stripes on its rounded forewings. Its hind wings are pinky-red and bor­dered with black.

This moth can be distin­guished from the sim­i­lar bur­net moths by the broader wings and bars of red in­stead of spots.

You can spot both in flight be­cause they look like big, red in­sects but when they rest is when you get the real ben­e­fit.

Be­ing out in na­ture is like get­ting trapped in a rain­bow as well as the blacks, yel­lows and reds, there are blue dam­sel­flies, green drag­on­flies, pur­ple fox­gloves and much more.

The Wildlife Trust for Lan­cashire, Manch­ester and North Mersey­side is ded­i­cated to the pro­tec­tion and pro­mo­tion of the wildlife in Lan­cashire, seven bor­oughs of Greater Manch­ester and four of Mersey­side, all ly­ing north of the River Mersey. It man­ages around 40 na­ture re­serves and 20 Lo­cal Na­ture Re­serves cov­er­ing acres of wood­land, wet­land, up­land and meadow. The trust has 27,000 mem­bers, and more than 1,200 vol­un­teers. To be­come a mem­ber of the trust go to the web­site at www. lanc­swt.org.uk or call 01772 324129. For more in­for­ma­tion about Cheshire Wildlife Trust call 01948 820728 or go to cheshire wildlifetrust.org.uk.

Ted Stevens

●● The Cinnabar moth starts life as a cater­pil­lar feed­ing on poi­sonous plants

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