Six-spot burnet moth (Zygaena filipendulae)

GenusZygaena (1)
SizeWingspan: 25-40 mm (2)

The six-spot burnet moth is not threatened (2).

The six-spot burnet moth (Zygaena filipendulae) is a brightly coloured day-flying moth. Its bright colours warn potential predators that it is poisonous. The blackish forewings have a metallic sheen and feature red spots that earn the species its common name (3). Despite the name, however, the number of spots can vary between individuals, and may be fused in some cases (4). The red hind wings have a fine bluish border and the antennae are club-shaped (3). A colour form known as f. flava has yellow spots in place of the normal red ones. Very occasionally, specimens with brown spots are also seen (5).

The six-spot burnet moth has a wide distribution in Britain and is fairly common. In Scotland it becomes more of a coastal species (2).

Found in a range of habitats including meadows with plenty of flowers, chalk downland, sea-cliffs, woodland rides, railway cuttings, disused quarries, and sand hills (2) (1). The six-spot burnet moth seems to prefer sites that have a mix of short and long grass, where there are sheltered sunny patches (3). The larvae need long grasses on which to pupate (1).

The six-spot burnet moth lives in colonies, and flies in sunshine from June to August (2). It feeds on the nectar of a large range of flowers, with wild thyme being a particular favourite (3). On overcast days it tends to retreat deep into grasses and can be difficult to spot (4). It is a single-brooded species, and the eggs are laid on bird’s-foot-trefoil. The caterpillars overwinter once, and occasionally twice, before pupating in paper-like cocoons on grass stems before emerging in June (4).

Although the six-spot burnet moth is not threatened at present, it seems likely that the widespread loss and agricultural improvement of semi-natural grasslands that has taken place will have impacted on this beautiful moth. Loss of ancient grasslands continues to date, while scrub encroachment is also a problem. Furthermore, colonies are vulnerable to drought (3).

The burnet study group has been formed to promote the conservation of burnet moths in Scotland (6).

For more on butterflies and moths see Butterfly Conservation:

Information authenticated by Dr Mark Young of Aberdeen University
with the support of the British Ecological Society

  1. National Biodiversity Network Species Dictionary (January 2004):
  2. Skinner, B. (1984) Colour identification guide to the moths of the British Isles. Penguin Books, Harmondsworth.
  3. Edinburgh Biodiversity partnership: Six-spot burnet (January 2004):
  4. (January 2004):
  5. Young, M. (2004) Pers. comm.
  6. The Burnet Study Group (January 2004):