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Temporal range: Rupelian–Present
Cyclosia papilionaris by Kadavoor.JPG
Cyclosia papilionaris , female
Scientific classification Red Pencil Icon.png
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Arthropoda
Class: Insecta
Order: Lepidoptera
Superfamily: Zygaenoidea
Family: Zygaenidae
Latreille, 1809
Larva showing warning colours, flattening Zygaena filipendulae - Sechsfleck Widderchen - Raupe 01.jpg
Larva showing warning colours, flattening
Zygaena carniolica Esparsetten widderchen01.jpg
Zygaena carniolica

The Zygaenidae moths are a family of Lepidoptera. The majority of zygaenids are tropical, but they are nevertheless quite well represented in temperate regions. Some of the 1000 or so species are commonly known as burnet or forester moths, often qualified by the number of spots, although other families also have 'foresters'. They are also sometimes called smoky moths.


All 43 species of Australian zygaenids are commonly known as foresters and belong to the tribe Artonini. The only nonendemic species in Australia is Palmartona catoxantha , a Southeast Asian pest species which is believed to be already present in Australia or likely to arrive soon. [1]



Larvae are stout and may be flattened. A fleshy extension of the thorax covers the head. Most feed on herbaceous plants, but some are tree feeders. Larvae in two subfamilies, Chalcosiinae and Zygaeninae, have cavities in which they store the cyanide, and can excrete it as defensive droplets. [2]

Aposematism in adults

Zygaenid moths are typically day flying with a slow, fluttering flight, and with rather clubbed antennae. They generally have a metallic sheen and often prominent spots of red or yellow. The bright colours are a warning to predators that the moths are distasteful - they contain hydrogen cyanide (HCN) throughout all stages of their life cycle. Unlike most insects with such toxins, they obtain glucosides from the plants they utilize so that HCN can be used as a defence. [3] However, they are capable of making HCN themselves, and when in an environment poor in cyanide-producing plants, synthesize it themselves. [4] They form mimicry complexes based on these toxins. [5]

However, while the overall picture is of genuine aposematism – the insects are both conspicuously coloured and toxic, containing cyanogenic glucosides – a study by Emmanuelle Briolat and colleagues including Martin Stevens found no evidence of a quantitative relationship between the visual signals of different species of Zygaenidae and their toxicity. [6]


The fossil species Neurosymploca? oligocenica , belonging to the subfamily Zygaeninae, is known from Lower Stampian (Early Oligocene) deposits in Céreste, Alpes-de-Haute-Provence, France. [7] Lepidopterans with preserved structural coloration from the Eocene (~47 Ma) shales of the Messel Pit, Germany, are suggested to be zygaenids, and more specifically procridines due to wing venation patterns. [8]

Economic importance

The grapeleaf skeletonizer can be a problem in vineyards, feeding on foliage and can also be found feeding on Virginia creeper.

Selected taxa

Satin-green forester (Pollanisus viridipulverulenta) found in most of Australia (including temperate Tasmania) Pollanisus viridipulverulentus.jpg
Satin-green forester ( Pollanisus viridipulverulenta ) found in most of Australia (including temperate Tasmania)

Genera incertae sedis include:

Pest species include:

South European species:

UK species:

African species:

Extinct species:

See also

Related Research Articles

Six-spot burnet Species of moth

The six-spot burnet is a day-flying moth of the family Zygaenidae.

Grapeleaf skeletonizer Species of moth

The grapeleaf skeletonizer is a moth in the family Zygaenidae. It is widespread in the eastern half of the United States, and commonly noticed defoliating grapes, especially of the Virginia creeper. The western grapeleaf skeletonizer is very similar to and slightly larger than H. americana, but their distributions are different.

Zygaeninae Subfamily of moths

The Zygaeninae are a subfamily of the Zygaenidae family of moths. These are day-flying moths. Species of the genus Zygaena are native to the West Palearctic, while the genus Reissita is found on the Arabian Peninsula. They are able to biosynthesise hydrogen cyanide, and their bright patterns are warning colours to potential predators.

<i>Zygaena</i> Genus of moths

Zygaena is a genus of moths in the family Zygaenidae. These brightly coloured, day-flying moths are native to the West Palearctic.

<i>Zygaena carniolica</i> Species of moth

Zygaena carniolica, sometimes described as the crepuscular burnet or eastern burnet, is a member of the family Zygaenidae.

<i>Zygaena ephialtes</i> Species of moth

Zygaena ephialtes is day flying species of burnet moth found in Europe. It is typically found in xeric habitats, and populations have recently decreased. It also exhibits Müllerian mimicry with other species, like Amata phegea.

<i>Zygaena loti</i> Species of moth

Zygaena loti, the slender Scotch burnet, is a moth of the family Zygaenidae. It is a diurnal moth characterized by a black body, light colored legs, and red spots on its wings. The caterpillars are a yellow-green color and usually molt out of dormancy in late February to early March. The larvae feed on plants from the family Fabaceae until they enter their pupal stage and mature into adults in May to early June. For mating, Zygaenidae exhibit a dual-partner finding strategy, where females use pheromones while assuming a calling position, and males exhibit a patrolling behavior where they utilize both vision and the olfactory receptors in their antennae to locate a potential mate.

<i>Zygaena exulans</i> Species of moth

Zygaena exulans, the mountain burnet or Scotch burnet, is a moth of the family Zygaenidae.

Reissita simonyi, the Arabian burnet moth, is a species of diurnal moth of the Zygaenidae family. It is the only species from the genus Reissita, and native to the southern part of the Arabian Peninsula. It resembles some species from the related genus Zygaena, and like them Reissita simonyi is toxic because it is able to biosynthesize hydrogen cyanide. The larvae feed on Maytenus, specifically M. dhofarensis and M. senegalensis.

<i>Zygaena lonicerae</i> Species of moth

Zygaena lonicerae, the narrow-bordered five-spot burnet, is a moth of the family Zygaenidae. The species was first described by Theodor Gottlieb von Scheven in 1777.

<i>Pollanisus viridipulverulenta</i> Species of moth

Pollanisus viridipulverulenta, the satin-green forester, is a moth of the family Zygaenidae. It is found in the eastern part of Australia.

Pollanisus nielseni is a moth of the family Zygaenidae. It inhabits the Australian state of Western Australia, mostly coastal areas, and has brilliantly shiny forewings. The diurnal adults are most active on sunny days. Eggs are laid on the plant Hibbertia spicata, and females touch each egg after oviposition with a tuft of hair on their abdomen, which attaches protective spines. The larvae are brightly coloured and feed on H. spicata before pupation.

Neurosymploca? oligocenica Extinct species of moth

Neurosymploca? oligocenica is an extinct species of moth in the family Zygaenidae, and possibly in the modern genus Neurosymploca. The species is known from Early Oligocene, Rupelian stage, lake deposits near the commune of Céreste in the Alpes-de-Haute-Provence, France.

<i>Zygaena magiana</i> Species of moth

Zygaena magiana is a species of moth in the Zygaenidae family. It is found in Central Asia.

<i>Zygaena truchmena</i> Species of moth

Zygaena truchmena is a species of moth in the Zygaenidae family. It is found in Central Asia.

<i>Zygaena olivieri</i> Species of moth

Zygaena olivieri is a species of moth in the Zygaenidae family. It is found in Syria, Armenia and Georgia. Seitz describes it -In olivieri Boisd. (7h) not only the collar and 2—8 abdominal segments are red but also the patagia, the red spots of the forewing being very large; from Syria and Armenia.In subspecies Z. o. laetifica Herrich-Schäffer, 1846 the pairs of spots on forewing are separate. — In Z. o. ganimedes Freyer, [1851] from Amasia, the penultimate pair of spots and the apical patch are rather broadly connected and the red markings of the forewing have a white edge of about 1 mm width.

<i>Zygaena cuvieri</i> Species of moth

Zygaena cuvieri is a species of moth in the Zygaenidae family found from Armenia and Syria to Central Asia. In Seitz it is described as follows: "This large fine Burnet has rosy-red wings, the forewing being divided into 3 areas by two black-grey bands; a broad collar and a rosy abdominal belt. Inhabits Anterior Asia, from Syria through Mesopotamia to Turkestan."

<i>Zygaena ecki</i> Species of moth

Zygaena ecki is a species of moth in the Zygaenidae family. It is found in Iran. In Seitz it is described - Z. ecki Christ. (6c). Little is known of this rather isolated Burnet, which does not stand in close relationship to any other, not being allied to ephialtes or exulans, nor to anthyllidis, behind which it is placed in the catalogue of Staudinger-Rebel. The dull dark grey forewing bears 6 pinkish crimson spots of which the 2 distal ones are slightly confluent; hindwing of the same tint, with rather broad black margin and reddish grey fringes. The abdomen is usually black, but occurs also with red belt, = cingulata Hirschke. Persia.


  1. Tarmann, G.M. "Zygaenid moths of Australia. A revision of the Australian Zygaenidae".
  2. Niehuis, O., Yen, S.H., Naumann, C.M. & Misof, B. (2006). "Higher phylogeny of zygaenid moths (Insecta: Lepidoptera) inferred from nuclear and mitochondrial sequence data and the evolution of larval cuticular cavities for chemical defence." Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 39(3): 812-829.
  3. The Lepidoptera: Form, function and diversity. Oxford Univ. Press.
  4. "Plants And Predators Pick Same Poison - Science News". www.sciencenews.org. Archived from the original on 2011-04-15.
  5. Naumann, C.M., Tarmann, G.M. & Tremewan, W.G. (1999). The Western Palaearctic Zygaenidae. Apollo Books.
  6. Briolat, Emmanuelle S.; Zagrobelny, Mika; Olsen, Carl E.; Blount, Jonathan D.; Stevens, Martin (2 Nov 2018). "No evidence of quantitative signal honesty across species of aposematic burnet moths (Lepidoptera: Zygaenidae)". Journal of Evolutionary Biology . Wiley. 32 (1): 31–48. doi:10.1111/jeb.13389. ISSN   1010-061X. PMC   6378400 . PMID   30317689.
  7. Fernández-Rubio, F.; Nel, A. (2000). "Neurosymploca? oligocenica a new fossil species of Lepidoptera Zygaenoidea of the Oligocene of Céreste (Lubéron, France)" (PDF). Boletín de la S.E.A. 27: 7–16.
  8. McNamara, Maria E.; Briggs, Derek E. G.; Orr, Patrick J.; Wedmann, Sonja; Noh, Heeso; Cao, Hui (2011-11-15). Benton, Michael J. (ed.). "Fossilized Biophotonic Nanostructures Reveal the Original Colors of 47-Million-Year-Old Moths". PLOS Biology. 9 (11): e1001200. doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.1001200. ISSN   1545-7885. PMC   3217029 . PMID   22110404.