Moths of Britain and Europe
6-spot Burnet
Zygaena filipendulae   LINNAEUS, 1758
Superfamily - ZYGAENOIDEA
subfamily - ZYGAENINAE
Tribe -

6-spot Burnet Zygaena filipendulae, Stansted Forest  Adrian Hoskins

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 cocoons.
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 butterflies.
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.
The 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 hundred adults.
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.
Adult behaviour

After 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 morning.

The moths beat their wings rapidly but have a slow buzzing flight, very reminiscent of bees except that the Burnet's flight is completely silent.


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