British Wildlife Wiki

The Slender Scotch burnet moth (Zygaena loti scotica) is a red and black day-flying moth with a wingspan of 25-30 mm. Larvae are dark greygreen, with indistinct yellow and black spots along the side.

Why is this on the Species Action List?[]

The Scotch burnet meets criterion 1a of the Species Action Framework, as a species for conservation action. It has shown a marked decline in the UK, where it is restricted to Scotland. It is a UKBAP Priority (sub) Species, and is included on the Scottish Biodiversity List. Zygaena loti is widespread in central Europe, but the subspecies scotica is presumed to be endemic to Scotland.

Habitat, distribution and abundance[]

The Scotch burnet inhabits low cliffs and grassy banks on sunny, south-facing coasts where the larval foodplant bird’s-foot trefoil grows in open swards. It has a narrow distribution in the UK, occurring only in Argyll at eight sites within three 10-km squares, on the islands of Mull and Ulva.

General ecology[]

Adult males are seen flying around in good weather, congregating on flowers such as milkworts. Females tend to perch and take nectar from the larval food plant, bird’s-foot trefoil. The larvae bask near the food plant in spots open to the sun such as stones, bare soil or moss cushions. Larvae are absent from tall grass s

Scotch Burnet TL

When the Scotch Burnet is active

wards even though the food plant is present. All breeding sites are prone to rock and soil slides, which maintain the vegetation in early successional stages. Colonies depend on the periodic creation of small patches of suitable habitat by grazing and natural erosion. Nonetheless, colonization is limited because the adults are largely sedentary; few stray beyond the immediate boundaries of colonies.

History of decline, contributory factors and current threats[]

The Scotch burnet is now restricted to its few island colonies in Argyll, having become extinct on the mainland. The main threats to this moth are inappropriate grazing levels, afforestation and isolation of colonies. Due to under-grazing, bracken invasion has damaged several sites. Encroachment from Cotoneaster species is also a problem.


Sometimes referred to as the Mountain Burnet, the forewings of this moth are thinly-scaled with five distinct, though sometimes very small, red spots. Its montane habitat and hairy body help to distinguish this moth.

Occurs in the UK as an endemic subspecies, subochracea, which is restricted to the eastern Cairngorms near Braemar, Aberdeenshire where it can be common.

Active in sunshine with a low, erratic buzzing flight, but will hide amongst vegetation during bad weather. Attracted to flowers, particularly Common Bird’s-foot Trefoil, but also Mountain Everlasting and others.

Conservation status[]

Europe/world wide A boreo-alpine species, occurring in Scandinavia and on the major mountain ranges of western and southern Europe. Its range extends to Siberia and Mongolia. In Lapland it occurs elevations as low as 150m, but altitude increases the further south it is found.

Caterpillar foodplants[]

The caterpillar feeds mainly on Crowberry, eating the terminal shoots and unripe berries. Also Cowberry, Bilberry and Heather.


Frequents the higher slopes, c.700-850m high, and summits of mountains, where the mainly prostrate vegetation consists of Crowberry, heathers and lichens with scattered Bilberry and Mountain Everlasting.