Found in Europe, today’s Friday Fellow is a nice day-flying moth with beautiful colors and toxic compounds. Scientifically known as Zygaena filipendulae, its common name is six-spot burnet, burnet being the common name of moths in the genus Zygaena and six-spot referring to the six red spots in each of the front wings. Those spots contrast beautifully with the dark blue or green metalic background of the wings, giving it some sort of mystical look, don’t you think?
As a caterpillar, the six-spot burnet feeds on leguminous plants, especially trefoils, and has a very different appearance, as usually in lepidopterans. It is yellow to greenish-yellow and has two rows of black spots running on the dorsum.
The plants used as food by the caterpillar contain cyanogenic glucosides, substances that are stored individually and produce toxic hydrogen cyanide when in contact with each other. This is used as a defense mechanism by the plant, but the caterpillar ingests and stores such compounds to use for its own defense. It has also been shown that the caterpillar is able to produce these cyanogenic glucosides by itself, thus not relying solely on the portion ingested with the food. Most of the compounds, however, are lost during the metamorphosis, so that the adults are much less toxic than the caterpillars.
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Zagrobelny, M., Bak, S., Olsen, C., & Møller, B. (2007). Intimate roles for cyanogenic glucosides in the life cycle of Zygaena filipendulae (Lepidoptera, Zygaenidae) Insect Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, 37 (11), 1189-1197 DOI: 10.1016/j.ibmb.2007.07.008
Wikipedia. Six-spot burnet. Available at: < https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Six-spot_burnet >. Access on August 1, 2016.
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