Dorothy Floyd, Small-Life Supplies, Whittlesey, Cambs, UK.

I’ve encouraged lots of ragwort to grow in my garden because it is easy to grow, looks pretty, and supports a wide variety of insect life. Naturally, the Cinnabar moths (Callimorpha jacobaeae) soon noticed and over the last few years the population of these attractive red moths has continued to flourish in my garden. The eggs of the Cinnabar moth are round, bright yellow and laid in small clumps underneath the ragwort leaves. This summer (July 2022) I noticed a clump of very pale green eggs, similar to the Cinnabar eggs, but the wrong colour. So I kept an eye on them and they soon hatched into pale caterpillars. They were Buff Ermine caterpillars (Spilosoma lutea).

The caterpillars did well and pupated on 10th August 2022. A month later they emerged as adult moths.

Buff Ermine Moth

I released them back into the garden, having kept some of their eggs which they laid on 13th Sept 2022.

Those eggs have now hatched but the ragwort season is over, so I decided to give them buddleia leaves instead. This autumn there is a lot of fresh growth of buddleia. The young caterpillars prefer the small tender leaves and the older caterpillars can tackle the larger leaves. The caterpillars have thrived on eating fresh buddleia leaves.

Caterpillar eating Buddleia

As the Buff Ermine caterpillars grow, they become darker in colour and more hairy. The most dramatic change occurs when they have a body length of 3cm. They darken in colour and become hyper-active. Indeed, we filmed this for the Small-Life Supplies YouTube video # 010, and the action packed sequences of caterpillars racing around has become our most popular video so far!

Pale 2.5cm caterpillar
Active 3cm caterpillar (top of picture)

I am sure that once people know how rewarding these caterpillars are to keep, more people will want to rear a few Buff Ermine caterpillars for themselves and enjoy looking after them before releasing the adult moths into their own garden.

Further Information:

  • www.small-life.co.uk
  • Search for “Small-Life Supplies YouTube channel” and watch video # 010.
  • Small-Life Supplies, tel: 01733 203358 (office hours).

© Dorothy Floyd 2022