Moths of Britain and
Superfamily - ZYGAENOIDEA
Family - ZYGAENIDAE
subfamily - ZYGAENINAE
The Burnets and Foresters belong to the
Zygaenidae - a family which in many respects
appears to straddle the gap between butterflies and moths - they are
brightly coloured, fly in sunshine, and have clubbed antennae; but
they rest with the wings folded down, and they pupate in silk
All butterflies and
moths belong to the order Lepidoptera. This is divided into 34
superfamilies each with particular characteristics. Most of the
600000 species distributed across these superfamilies are nocturnal
species, and have traditionally been called moths. It just so
happens that in among them are 2 particular superfamilies - the
Hesperioidea and Papilionoidea, whose 17000 or so members are almost
exclusively day-flying species. Due to this aspect of their
behaviour, and their generally brighter colours, they became
unscientifically regarded as "different" - and got called
One of the other
superfamilies is the Zygaenoidea. It is divided into 13 families.
Some of these, e.g. Dalceridae, Limacodidae & Megalopygidae, are
comprised of mostly nocturnal species - these are usually drab in
colour, and have feathered antennae. Others including Zygaenidae are
day-flying, brightly coloured, with unfeathered antennae that are
swollen at the tips like those of butterflies.
The Zygaenidae comprises
of about 1000 species, found mainly in the tropics, but with about
40 representatives in Europe and north Africa.
moths generally have a metallic blue or green sheen, and many of the
species have prominent red spots on the forewings, and red
hindwings. These bright colours are a warning to predators that they
are poisonous - their bodies contain levels of hydrogen cyanide that
are lethal to small birds.
Zygaena filipendulae is found throughout Europe. It is
usually found in large colonies, each comprising of at least several
This species is found in grassy areas at altitudes between sea level
and about 500m.
The flattened barrel-shaped eggs are laid in neat batches on leaves
of the foodplants.
The caterpillars hatch in September but enter hibernation after a
few days, re-awakening in April to resume feeding. When fully grown
they are yellowish-green, slightly hairy, and marked with rows of
conspicuous black spots along the back and sides. They feed on
bird'sfoot trefoil Lotus corniculatus,
kidney vetch Anthyllis vulneraria and
other herbaceous Leguminosae.
The pupa is formed within a wrinkled and shiny white or yellowish
cocoon which is usually spun high up on a grass stem.
When the moth emerges the pupa remains wedged in the exit hole as
shown in the photograph above.
Zygaena filipendulae, Stansted
emergence the females
sit on their cocoons and emit pheromones to attract males. Within a
few minutes a male arrives, and copulation takes place on the cocoon.
I have often found copulated pairs at dusk, so it seems likely that
the pair remain joined overnight, and part at first light next
The moths beat
their wings rapidly but have a slow buzzing flight,
very reminiscent of
except that the Burnet's flight is completely silent.