The colour that says stay away
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.
●● The Cinnabar moth starts life as a caterpillar feeding on poisonous plants