Six Spot Burnet: Essential Facts and Tips

The Six Spot Burnet is a fascinating moth species that captures the attention of both nature enthusiasts and casual observers alike. These beautiful day-flying insects, with their eye-catching black and greenish-blue metallic wings, can be spotted in various habitats such as grasslands, meadows, and coastal areas.

As the name suggests, this moth is known for the six red spots adorning its wings. However, it’s interesting to note that the number of spots can sometimes vary, often merging to form larger markings. While watching these captivating creatures, you may witness their fascinating lifecycle that includes a cat’s ear looking caterpillar, a cocoon, and an adult moth.

Distinct from nocturnal moths, the Six Spot Burnet is active during the day, making it easier for you to observe and appreciate its intricate patterns and vibrant colors. With this newfound knowledge, you’ll be well-equipped to identify and enjoy the presence of these stunning moths in your environment.

Overview of the Six Spot Burnet

The Six Spot Burnet (Zygaena filipendulae) is a fascinating moth belonging to the insect order Lepidoptera. As a day-flying arthropod, it showcases a unique set of features.

What sets this moth apart from others is its striking appearance. The Six Spot Burnet has a vibrant, metallic green body and wings adorned with six striking red spots. These spots serve as a warning sign for predators, as the moth’s bright colors signal that it is toxic.

As an animal native to grassy meadows and coastal dunes in Europe, the Six Spot Burnet enjoys feeding on the nectar of various flowers. Thistles and knapweeds are some of their favorites.

In its caterpillar stage, the Six Spot Burnet feeds on the leaves of specific plants like bird’s-foot trefoil. Here are some key features of this moth:

  • Belongs to the Zygaenidae family of moths
  • Can be found across Europe, parts of Asia, and North Africa
  • Wingspan ranges from 30-40mm

To sum it up, the Six Spot Burnet is a remarkable day-flying insect with a distinct appearance and interesting behavior. Appreciating its beauty and role in the ecosystem can enhance your understanding of the fascinating world of Lepidoptera.

Physical Characteristics

Wingspan and Spots

The Six Spot Burnet is a stunning moth with a wingspan of approximately 30-40mm. Its forewings and hindwings are covered in glossy black with six distinctive red spots. These eye-catching patterns make it easy to identify in the wild. Some key features include:

  • Glossy black wings
  • Six red spots on each wing

Life Stages

Throughout its life, the Six Spot Burnet goes through several stages:

  1. Eggs: Laid by adult moths on the host plant.
  2. Caterpillars: Hatched from the eggs, they feed on leaves and grow.
  3. Cocoon: Caterpillars spin a cocoon where they pupate.
  4. Pupa: The stage where the caterpillar transforms into an adult moth.
  5. Adult moth: The fully developed six spot burnet, ready to reproduce.

It’s important to note that during the pupa stage, some individuals may overwinter in their cocoon until the following spring.

Toxicity

The Six Spot Burnet is known for its poisonous nature. Both the caterpillar and adult moth contain cyanide, making them toxic to predators. This defense mechanism helps them survive in the wild. As a result, when observing these fascinating creatures, it’s essential to be cautious and avoid direct contact with them.

Remember, always admire the beautiful Six Spot Burnet from a safe distance and enjoy the uniqueness of its physical characteristics.

Behaviors of the Six Spot Burnet

The Six Spot Burnet is a unique day-flying moth that stands out from other moth species. Its vibrant colors and patterns make it an intriguing subject for wildlife enthusiasts.

As a day-flying moth, you’ll often observe the Six Spot Burnet active during sunlight hours, unlike the majority of moths. Burnet moths, including the Six Spot Burnet, are known for their metallic green and red markings, which can serve as warnings to potential predators.

Here are some key behaviors of the Six Spot Burnet:

  • Day-flying burnet moths tend to visit nearby flowers, such as thistles and knapweeds, to feed on nectar.
  • When faced with a threat, they release a defensive chemical called hydrogen cyanide to deter predators like birds and spiders.

While observing the Six Spot Burnet in its natural habitat, you might notice the following:

  • They have a preference for sunlit grasslands and meadows, which provide ample flowers for feeding.
  • Burnet moths often fly in groups, so if you spot one, you’re likely to find others nearby.

In conclusion, the Six Spot Burnet is an exceptional day-flying moth that exhibits interesting behaviors and dazzling colors. As wildlife lovers, it’s essential to respect their habitat and help ensure the survival of these beautiful creatures.

Habitat

Where They Live

The Six Spot Burnet moth can be found across the UK, including Britain, Scotland, England, Wales, Ireland, and the Isle of Man. You’ll mostly encounter these moths in the north, inhabiting meadows, woodland rides, sea-cliffs, and woodland clearings.

Host Plants

These moths have a preference for specific flowers, feeding on:

  • Scabious
  • Knapweed
  • Thistles
  • Bird’s-foot trefoil
  • Clover
  • Lotus corniculatus

These flowering plants provide essential nectar and nutrients for the Six Spot Burnet.

Conservation Status and Threats

The Six Spot Burnet’s conservation status is currently stable. However, as with many species, they face potential threats like habitat loss. To help protect these moths and their habitat, nature reserves and organizations such as Wildlife Trusts work diligently to preserve and maintain the environments they live in. By taking on these efforts, you can continue to enjoy spotting the beautiful Six Spot Burnet in the wild.

Role in the Ecosystem

The Six Spot Burnet, a butterfly species, plays an essential role in the ecosystem. They contribute to the pollination process by feeding on nectar from various plants. In doing so, they inadvertently transfer pollen between flowers, helping them to reproduce. As a result, these butterflies indirectly support the growth and diversity of plant species.

Wildlife is heavily influenced by the presence of the Six Spot Burnet. They are a valuable source of food for many predators, such as birds and other insects, providing sustenance to a wide range of species. In turn, this helps maintain a balanced and diverse ecosystem.

As a species, the Six Spot Burnet is not alone in its role; there are other key players in the ecosystem, including:

  • Butterflies: like the Six Spot Burnet, other butterfly species also act as pollinators and serve as prey for various predators.
  • Grasshoppers: although not as efficient pollinators, grasshoppers play a similar part in the food chain, providing sustenance to many predators.

To summarize:

  • Pollination: The Six Spot Burnet, along with other butterflies and insects, is crucial for pollination, helping plants to reproduce.
  • Food source: These insects act as prey for various predators, contributing to a balanced and diverse ecosystem.

Distribution and Seasonality

The Six Spot Burnet is a visually striking moth found in specific regions. Its distribution extends across the UK, southern Scandinavia, and central Europe, down to Morocco and the Middle East. Here are the key features of its distribution and seasonality:

  • Most commonly found in grassy meadows, coastal dunes, woodland clearings, and other sunny habitats.
  • Active during the months of June to August, with peak activity on sunny days.

The Six Spot Burnet has certain preferences when it comes to its surrounding environment:

  • Prefers areas with high populations of their favorite food plants, such as bird’s-foot trefoil and clover.
  • Finds comfort in limestone grasslands and areas with a high density of flowers.

During the summer months, you may notice the Six Spot Burnet fluttering around in open, sunny spaces. These moths are daytime fliers and are most active under the sun, which sets them apart from most other moths.

In summary, the Six Spot Burnet graces grassy meadows and flower-filled regions during the warm months of June to August. Keep an eye out for these stunning moths, particularly on sunny days, and enjoy the beauty they add to the landscape.

Anatomy and Identification

The Six Spot Burnet (Zygaena filipendulae) is a moth belonging to the family Zygaenidae. This unique species can be identified by some key features:

  • Bright yellow or greenish-yellow wings
  • Six distinct red spots on each wing
  • Metallic, iridescent sheen on the wings of certain subspecies, such as the f. flava

To identify a Six Spot Burnet, you can look for these specific traits:

  • Size: The moth has a medium length wingspan, usually around 3-4 cm.
  • Color: The base color ranges from yellow to greenish-yellow.
  • Spots: The six red spots found on each wing can vary in size and shape.
  • Habitat: They typically inhabit grasslands, meadows, and waste areas.

In comparison to other Zygaena species, the Six Spot Burnet is one of the more vibrant and easily identifiable members, due to its more prominent coloration and pattern.

When observing these creatures, remember to:

  • Respect their natural habitat and surroundings.
  • Make notes or take photographs if possible, to compare with reference material for proper identification.

By paying attention to these intricate details, you’ll be well on your way to successfully identifying the Six Spot Burnet.

History

Historical Significance

The Six Spot Burnet (Zygaena filipendulae) is a striking day-flying moth belonging to the family Zygaenidae. Its bright colors and intricate patterns have captured people’s imagination throughout history, making it a significant symbol in many cultures. The vivid colors of the Six Spot Burnet serve as a warning to predators of their unpalatability, which further enhances their fascinating biology.

Regional Variations

You may observe regional variations in the Six Spot Burnet across its habitats. In Britain, the species are popularly known as the British Burnet, and they tend to have a coastal bias. This means that the population density is usually higher in coastal regions compared to inland areas. Here’s a comparison to give you a better understanding:

Region Popularity Habitat
Coastal High Meadows
Inland Low Grasslands

Some features of the Six Spot Burnet include:

  • Six red spots on their dark, metallic greenish-blue wings
  • Vibrant colors to warn predators of their toxicity
  • Day-flying habits, which is unusual for moths

In conclusion, understanding the history and regional variations of the Six Spot Burnet provides valuable insights into this beautiful and intriguing day-flying moth species. Its historical significance and unique features make it an essential topic for moth enthusiasts and nature lovers alike.

How to Attract Six Spot Burnets

To attract Six Spot Burnets to your garden or nearby nature reserve, you can focus on providing the right environment and resources to lure in these fascinating creatures. Let’s explore some simple methods to welcome them.

Firstly, be aware that Six Spot Burnets are particularly drawn to flower-rich habitats. Planting specific flowers like wildlife trusts recommended plants may increase the chances of Burnets visiting your area. Include a variety of native flowers and nectar-rich plants. This ensures a consistent source of food, as the adult Burnets feed on flower nectar.

Another crucial element is the availability of larval food sources. Burnets mainly feed on Common Bird’s-foot Trefoil, so try to incorporate this type of plant into your landscape. Introducing these plants can also benefit other pollinators that might come to visit your garden.

Don’t forget to provide a suitable habitat for Burnets to lay their eggs. Keep in mind that they prefer taller grasses to deposit their eggs. Create a specific area with longer grass to provide shelter and breeding grounds for these captivating insects.

Finally, consider partnering with local nature reserves or environmental organizations to promote habitat preservation. Collaboration with organizations like Nature reserve can help establish and maintain thriving ecosystems that benefit Six Spot Burnets as well as other native species in your area.

By implementing these friendly tips, you can create a welcoming environment for Six Spot Burnets, enjoy the beauty of these vibrant moths, and contribute to the wellbeing of your local ecosystem.

Conclusion

In the world of moths, the Six Spot Burnet is a fascinating species worth your attention. As you’ve learned, these moths have a striking appearance with their vibrant colors and distinct markings. Their daytime flying behavior makes them easy to spot and observe.

The Six Spot Burnet is also ecologically significant. The species plays a role in the food chain, serving as a food source for predators like birds and spiders. Additionally, the larvae feed on various plant species, which helps control the growth of those plants.

Remember to appreciate and respect the wildlife around you. Sharing your knowledge about the Six Spot Burnet can inspire others to take an interest in the natural world.

Enjoy your adventures in the great outdoors, and don’t forget to keep an eye out for these unique and beautiful Six Spot Burnet moths.

Reader Emails

Over the years, our website, whatsthatbug.com has received hundreds of letters and some interesting images asking us about these insects. Scroll down to have a look at some of them.

Letter 1 – Six Spot Burnet

 

Red and black flying bug
Location: Yorkshire, England
June 30, 2011 5:51 pm
Can anyone identify this insect? When it flies, the parts of the wings near the body are a spectacular red; at rest, the black wings show red spots.
We have spotted these in two locations near the coast in Yorkshire (U.K.) in June.
Signature: Mike G

Six Spot Burnet

Hi Mike,
According to the UK Moths website, this Six Spot Burnet is a common diurnal species.

Thanks. I’ve looked in our books, tried a few Websites, but I couldn’t find it! So thanks for your help.
I’ve seen lots more in the last few days, so they must be common, but I’ve noticed any before.
Mike.

Letter 2 – Six Spotted Burnets Mating in the UK

 

Green with red spot and black with red spots on wings
Location:  Brean Down Somerset UK
August 10, 2010 4:14 am
Dear bugman please identify the pair of bugs in the attached photos
Gill

Mating Six Spotted Burnets

Hi Gill,
Your mating moths are Six Spotted Burnets,
Zygaena filipendulae.  Just yesterday we posted another example from the UK.  You may read more about Six Spotted Burnets on our website and on the UK Moths Website.  We have been getting numerous identification request from the UK lately.

Six Spotted Burnet

Letter 3 – Six-Spot Burnet

 

Red-and-black insect, size of grasshopper
July 28, 2009
I saw this lovely red and black insect swaying around on the top of a flower in a fairly strong wind. Size of a grasshopper, but didn’t seem to be typically grasshopper-y, to my eyes at least. Location was grassland and scrub around clay pit in the Surrey Hills ANOB, time was late afternoon late July.
Louise
Hambledon, Surrey Hills ANOB

Six-Spot Burnet
Six-Spot Burnet

Dear Louise,
We believe your lovely diurnal or day flying moth is the Six-Spot Burnet, Zygaena filipendulae
There is a wonderful website for the identification of UK Moths that has a quick way to reference moths by families, the thumbnail index, and the Six-Spot Burnet was quickly located in the family Zygaenidae, the Leaf Skeletonizer Moths.  According to UK Moths, the Six-Spot Burnet has a “Wingspan 30-38 mm.  This is the commonest of Britain’s day-flying Burnet moths, and is found throughout Britain, with a coastal bias in the North.   Occupying meadows, woodland clearings and sea-cliffs, it flies from June to August.  The larvae feed mainly on bird’s-foot trefoil (Lotus corniculatus). Thanks for educating us today that AONB stands for Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

Letter 4 – Six Spot Burnet from Northern Ireland

 

Subject:  Moth?
Geographic location of the bug:  Ballymena, Northern Ireland
Date: 06/23/2018
Time: 09:55 AM EDT
Your letter to the bugman:  No idea but first I’ve seen it
How you want your letter signed:  Any way at all

Six Spot Burnet

Based on images posted to Animal Photos and UK Moths where it states “This is the commonest of Britain’s day-flying Burnet moths, and is found throughout Britain, with a coastal bias in the North” we are confident this is a Six Spotted Burnet.

Letter 5 – Six Spot Burnet from Polly Joke Beach, UK

 

Subject:  Black wasp with red wings
Geographic location of the bug:  Polyjoke, Crantock, UK
Date: 06/23/2021
Time: 12:42 PM EDT
Your letter to the bugman :  Saw lots of these on a coastal walk. Never seen before. Interested to know what they are? Possible Tarantula Spider Wasp?
How you want your letter signed:  Kellie

Six Spot Burnet

Dear Kellie,
Though it resembles a Wasp, this Six Spot Burnet is actually a diurnal moth.

Hi Daniel
Thank you for your reply.
I did later have a good look online and realised what it was but really appreciate you getting back to me.
Kind regards
Kellie

Letter 6 – Six Spot Burnet from Ireland

 

Subject: Beautiful Insect in Ireland
Location: Inch Beach, Dingle peninsula, Co. Kerry
August 9, 2017 10:17 am
Hi again! We saw a few of these bright, almost metallic fliers on our recent hike. Up close, they seem like a type of fly, but would love to know what they are for our next trip there. Found this guy near Inch Beach, Dingle peninsula, Co. Kerry. Thanks!
Signature: Cheers!

Six Spot Burnet

This is a Six Spot Burnet, Zygaena filipendulae.  According to UK Moths:  “This is the commonest of Britain’s day-flying Burnet moths, and is found throughout Britain, with a coastal bias in the North. Occupying meadows, woodland clearings and sea-cliffs, it flies from June to August.”  Your image is beautifully detailed.

Thank you for the response and compliment on the shot :-]

Letter 7 – Six Spot Burnet Moths from Ireland

 

Sighting 8th August 2010
Location:  Bull Island, Dublin, Ireland
August 9, 2010 4:50 am
On a warm sunny day on Bull Island, Dublin, Ireland many of these ? were about – very few other species around, a few common blue butterflies and browns.
Mairead Ni Chuirc

Six Spot Burnet Moths

Hi Mairead,
Though they are diurnal, these Six Spot Burnets,
Zygaena filipendulae, are moths.  We identified them on the UK Moths website.

Letter 8 – Six Spot Burnet Moths Mating in the UK

 

Unusual but pretty
Hi folks,
while I was out walking near the shore in Cumbria UK, I come accross these rather pretty little creatures. I have never seen anything like them before so my question is: I didn’t kill them I just took a picture and let them be! What are they? Picture attached…
James W. Smith

Hi James,
These are mating Six Spot Burnet Moths, Zygaena filipendulae, and according to the UK Moths website, they are the commonest day flying Burnet Moth in Britain.

Update: 18 September 2008
Hi, great website. Your pictures of burnet moths titled ” Six Spot Burnet Moths Mating in the UK, (09/12/2008) Unusual but pretty” are actually narrow-bordered five spot burnet moths Zygaena lonicerae. Couldn’t see any way of adding this info to the site.
Cheers
Carterocephalus

Letter 9 – Six Spot Burnett

 

Subject: Unusual Butterfly ?
Location: Monifeith coastal path
July 23, 2017 9:25 am
Son found this whilst walking along the coastal path near Monifeith, Angus, Scotland.. 23/7/2017
Signature: Brett

Six Spot Burnett

Hi Brett,
Because it is diurnal, and most people associate moths with night, you have mistaken this Six Spot Burnett which is well documented on Animal Photos, for a butterfly.  According to Butterfly Conservation:  “Frequents flowery grasslands, including downland, cliff-edges, woodland rides, roadside verges and sand-dunes.”  According to UK Moths:  “This is the commonest of Britain’s day-flying Burnet moths, and is found throughout Britain, with a coastal bias in the North. “

Letter 10 – 5-Spot Burnet Moth

 

burnet moth
Hello again
took this picture this morning of a 5-spot burnet moth in the uk near essex they are truly fantastic creatures aren’t they! p.s keep up the good work on the site!
Ben

Hi Ben,
Thank you for submitting this wonderful image of a beautiful 5-Spot Burnet Moth, Zygaena trifolii.

Letter 11 – Brown Pansy from Zambia

 

African butterfly
Sat, Jan 10, 2009 at 7:06 AM
What is this pretty butterfly? It looks a little similar to the American buckeyes.
Judy Gallagher
Victoria Falls, Zambia

Zambian Brush Footed Butterfly
Zambian Brush Footed Butterfly

Hi Judy,
Your observation that this Zambian Butterfly resembled an American Buckeye was a good one. Both are in the same family, Nymphalidae. We searched the web for about 20 minutes trying to identify your specimen, but we did not have any luck. Perhaps one of our readers will write in with an answer.

Update: Zambian Brushfoot
Sun, Jan 11, 2009 at 6:24 AM
Hi Daniel:
You and Judy are closer than you thought. The butterfly is called the Brown Pansy (Junonia natalica), a brushfoot in the same genus as the Common Buckeye from North America (Junonia coenia). It’s quite a large genus, with representatives in tropical and sub-tropical regions of most continents. There aren’t many good images on the internet (Judys is now one of them) but the UK Butterflies site has an article on the butterflies of Kruger National Park – scroll down to Brown Pansy and click on the thumbnail. Regards.
Karl
Here is the link: http://www.ukbutterflies.co. uk/reports_kruger.php

Authors

    by
  • Bugman

    Bugman aka Daniel Marlos has been identifying bugs since 1999. whatsthatbug.com is his passion project and it has helped millions of readers identify the bug that has been bugging them for over two decades. You can reach out to him through our Contact Page.

  • Piyushi Dhir

    Piyushi is a nature lover, blogger and traveler at heart. She lives in beautiful Canada with her family. Piyushi is an animal lover and loves to write about all creatures.

16 thoughts on “Six Spot Burnet: Essential Facts and Tips”

  1. Hi I found a moth or butterfly just inside my door today it’s black with four red spots and three red stripes I’m just wondering what it is I have pics but don’t no how to upload them

    Reply
  2. Hello, thanks for helping find this insect. I’ve seen it in Cheltenham recently. It appears to be really fussy about flower types, as it navigate for ages around them until it finds a thistle head for example. Looking at the picture above it could be simply be the colour purple it likes. Anyway, it looks great in flight with it’s deep blue/black hue.

    Reply
  3. I spotted this little bug in Essex. Knowing now that is a moth, I am very surprised as I saw it during day light. Red spots looked rather like Heart shapes.

    Reply
  4. Saw one on my bright yellow washing basket this morning – stayed there for ages while we watched it and took photos!

    Guilden, Morden, Cambridgeshire

    Reply
  5. Saw one on my bright yellow washing basket this morning – stayed there for ages while we watched it and took photos!

    Guilden, Morden, Cambridgeshire

    Reply
  6. How exciting! My daughter advised me to google my query. We have seen this beautiful insect in the garden; on lavender flowers and a thistle type flower. Not a nervous insect, so we were able to watch it for ages. In Ashtead, Surrey.

    Reply
  7. Saw what must be a red and black burnett butterfly near thistles two days ago. Lovely red spots on black wings. Location – the unspoilt habitat next to Metrolink footpath at St. Werburgh Road tram-stop.

    Reply
  8. Thanks Bugman. I spelt the name wrong too! Last year I watched a large dragonfly chasing a moth at Sale Water Park. They flew so fast, weaving and diving, twisting and turning, a display of aerial dexterity that had me spell-bound. Too fast to identify but the moth was the same size as a Burnet and I hope it got away.

    Reply
  9. I saw these, lots and lots of them for the first time yesterday. They were on the purple buddleia and purple thistle in an unspoilt area behind a supermarket in Dawlish, Devon.

    Reply
  10. One of the children in my class found one of these in our outdoor area. We didn’t know what it was and we’re excited when we learnt its name.

    Reply

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