Cinnabar Caterpillar

Tansy ragwort is a noxious weed that is toxic to cattle and horses. My husband told me that when he was younger his mom had him pull any tansy ragwort he found on their property. 

When I saw tansy ragwort growing where we live I sheepishly admit that I couldn't bring myself to pull it because cinnabar caterpillars eat them, and I was really hoping that the plants would lure cinnabar moths to lay eggs on the plants in our yard. Years ago we were intrigued by cinnabar caterpillars we found some on tansy ragwort plants growing elsewhere. My children even made up a cute name for them -- "ring-tosses" (because of the black circles around them). I wanted to see cinnabar caterpillars again (and the pretty cinnabar moths!) and hoped some might choose to make the plants in our yard their home.

Today we went searching to see if we could find any cinnabar caterpillars on any of our plants. Now, thanks in part to me and my non-diligence at pulling them *blush*, we have quite a few tansy ragwort plants that we'll need to tackle getting rid of, and we were able to find one cinnabar caterpillar. Who knows why only one was found, but it was exciting to find it! Here he (or she) is on the sunshiny-yellow tansy ragwort plant:

My children wanted to hold it.  When my older son
took it off the plant, it curled into a ball at first:

And then it started crawling around on their hands:

And finally I thought, hey, maybe we could keep it and see if we could see it turn into a moth!  I have never done that before, but I've heard of other people keeping caterpillars until they make a chrysalis and come out of it changed into a moth or butterfly.  I'm a little afraid it won't work, so I'm praying it does.  Here is the jar we put the little fellow in at first:

But, at the (wise) insistence of my son, after reading on the Internet about how to take care of a caterpillar, I made some changes and moved it to a larger jar with more room.  Here it is crawling on a stick in its new home:

Oh, and the caterpillar has a name -- "Cinnamon." Here Cinnamon is in his habitat with cheesecloth covering the top of his jar:

Here is a link to the webpage with the directions I followed in making his home:  How to Keep a Caterpillar - What to Do When You Want to Keep a Caterpillar By Debbie Hadley.  And here is a link to a page which explains the Life Cycle of Butterflies and Moths.

I'll let you know how it goes!


  1. JayLeigh !
    This is a wonderful post and we just might be able to see the transformation of at least one ? caterpillar next year using this method .. I had so many on my potted fennel and dill I thought we would see the process for sure .. but they all crawled off at some time and LEFT home without us seeing how this went .. thank you for this post and I am making notes ! LOL

  2. Excellent stuff! I never considered looking around plants like this for caterpillars. Bees are my usual targets. I'll remember to do a caterpillar search next time I'm out. I'm also glad you have a link on how to make the caterpillar habitat.

  3. Thank you both! :)

    Joy, that would be neat if you are able to see the transformation next year! :) That's disappointing that they all crawled away this year. It's hard to tell what little creatures will do; they surprise me a lot. lol

    Ratty, bees do seem to love those bright yellow flowers! :-) I hope you come across some cinnabar caterpillars so you can see them. I think they are pretty. I really like that link; I'm glad I found it!

    I'm afraid I have a rather disappointing update regarding the caterpillar we named "Cinnamon." I'll write a blog post about it soon, but I can't get my pictures up yet (computer problems), and I want to wait until I'm able to post pictures before I post a new blog post. The gist of it is, though, we let Cinnamon go free. I did some searching and found that cinnabar caterpillars create a chrysalis in the debris at the base of the plant and they stay in it for 9 months. I didn't feel up to the task, and felt he'd be much happier free. Maybe next year we can find a different type of caterpillar! :-)


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