The Clearwing Moths (Sesiidae) of VC56 Nottinghamshire
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Interest in the UK's clearwing moths has grown enormously since the advent of artificial pheremone lures. Now, moths which once had an almost mythological reputation among entomologists, can be attracted with relative ease and often within a few minutes.
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Formally, to stand a chance of ever seeing one of these elusive moths, you first had to do your homework, then do your fieldwork and then have a sizeable slice of luck on your side. Unless you were incredibly fortunate to stumble upon a clearwing, entomologists of the time were really pretty limited as to hich species they were likely to ever encounter.

Currant Clearwing probably provided many of our older entomologists with their most likely chance of seeing a clearwing, as it was common enough to be regarded as a pest species of both Red and Black Currant plants grown in many gardens and allottments of the time. And the adults could probably be found quite easily, just by searching the foliage early in the morning.

But when artificial clearwing pheremones were developed, there was suddenly a whole new world of discovery opened up. Now, clearwing moths could be lured easily and the need for patience and downright sheer luck was a thing of the past.
   
 

The development and use of pheremone lures

At least now entomologists had an easy method of finding and recording clearwings and I dare say that today's entomologists don't give a thought to how much harder it was to record these moths 40 or 50 years ago. But then I suppose, why would they? But it is important not to forget how advances have made things much easier and how, attracting male clearwing moths to lure is easy, providing they are there of course.

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Using pheremone lures

But with the new lures developed and being supplied by Anglian Lepidopterist Supplies, a short visit to any likely site will usually reveal the presence of the desired quarry within 15 minutes or so .... providing conditions are suitable of course.

Pheremone lures work and are well worth the money, even if you think that they are perhaps a little expensive. If you want to see clearwings you need lures and to be honest, they could be extortionally expensive because of this. They aren't and at around £8.50 per lure, they are well worth it and I'm not being paid to say so.

So now armed with the lure to attract your species of choice, you need to do a little homework before venturing out into the field. Further below on this page are the latest distribution maps for those clearwings found in Nottinghamshire. Don't take this list to be set in stone, as Raspberry Clearwing 

The best weather is a warm, sunny day with a light breeze, but it does not have to be wall to wall blue skies.

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If you're not successful and suspect that the clearwing you're after is on site, you may need to revisit and try a different area. With the weather conditions largely being the key factor to success with the lures (obviously depending on whether the moth is there or not) it pays to maximise your recording efforts on days with the right weather conditions. But don't use them to frequently in the same spot. If no moths have been attracted after half an hour, its usually best to try somewhere else.

Never over use pheremone lures at any one site and certainly not annually in the same area. Once a species has been recorded from a site (unless that site is extensive) there is really no need to return year after year. Far more useful to try different sites and add to our knowledge of their Nottinghamshire distribution.

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Even when flying around the lure, most clearwings are not that easy to see in flight and so to make things easier, it is best to site the lure where it can be viewed against a plain background. Sitting lower than the lure and with the lure silhouetted against the sky helps enormously, so taking a small collapsible stool is handy and usually allows the clearwing to be seen as it flies past (often several times) before homing in on the lure.

It also pays to put something around the lure to make it stand out, something easy to see among the vegetation after you take a wild swing with the net, catch the moth but send the lure hurtling into the undergrowth. Its easily done, so tying a peice of cloth or coloured paper to the string the lure hangs from, is a good idea which Dilys and myself found out on more than one occasion.

Exit holes - another method of finding clearwings

But some casual/easy fieldwork undertaken the previous Winter can save you time with the lure the following Summer. Winter offers the chance to do some useful recording work by looking for the exit holes of the Hornet Moth at the base of various Poplars, or those of the Lunar Hornet Moth at the base of Goat Sallow.

 
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Lunar Hornet Moth larval workings are obvious within the cut stumps of Goat Sallow Salix caprea. The larval workings showed above are in a 15cm wide stump. They are large and distinctive and there is nothing to really cause any possible confusion. Return again at the right time during the Summer and you'll be met with success and see the impressive adult moth.
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  Winter searches can also be conducted for both Welsh Clearwing and Large Red-belted Clearwing on Silver Birch Betula pendula, although in practice, finding the exit holes of Welsh Clearwing has proved to be much easier.

The pupal exuviae of both moths are visually identical, but the siting of the exit hole  is characteristic to individual species. Large Red-belted Clearwing females lay on Silver Birch stumps usually cut the previous year, while Welsh Clearwing females only lay on the bark of standing, living trees. And with so much Silver Birch being removed from the Sherwood Forest area now, Large Red-belted Clearwing looks set to have a good few years.

A 5mm circular hole on a cut Silver Birch stump, will be the result of the Large Red-belted Clearwing larva prior to pupation, as the larva creates the exit hole from which the moth emerges before it pupates. The pupal exuvia from any recent emergence, will often remain in place for a number of days or even weeks, as showed in the left hand photograph.

Suitable stumps don't have to be large, as egg-laying females have been recorded investigating stumps little more than 5cm wide and on fine sunny days, females can be seen flying around any suitable stumps egglaying.
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  An interesting point of note took place a few years ago at Clipstone Old Quarter, when Paul and Helen Brock, along with John and Denise Bingham, recorded several Large Red-belted Clearwings examining stumps cut only a month or so previously.

The next day and in identical weather conditions, we visited the same spot and failed to see any females at all, even around the same stumps Paul, Helen, John and Denise had recorded them.

Large Red-belted Clearwing has something of an unpredictable history at Sherwood Forest, often going unrecorded for a number of years before being recorded again and it possibly has a more transient existance than most other species, due to its requirement for fresh Birch stumps for egglaying.

The Welsh Clearwing is much the better recorded of the two moths at Sherwood Forest. Mature Silver Birch with deeply creviced bark are favoured by egg-laying females and there are a handful of trees at Sherwood Forest CP and the western end of Budby South Forest, which have been particularly favoured by successive females for years. These could well be called 'key' trees, as they are now riddled with old exit holes. They certainly must have something about them, but whatever it is, its certainly not obvious as to why they are so preferred.
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Welsh Clearwing females tend to lay their eggs in the rough bark, but most exit holes of any current year, are located in smooth areas of white bark. Welsh Clearwing exit holes are also 5mm in diameter and if a moth has recently hatched, the exit hole will usually still have the pupal exuvia in place. Exit holes are typically situated between three and six feet from the ground and always on mature trees with characteristically deeply ridged bark.

Currant Clearwing is another species which can be looked for during the Winter months. Old Currant Clearwing exit holes can be found on the woody growth of both Redcurrant, Blackcurrant and Gooseberry. Greatest success will most likely come from allotments and old gardens, which often contain odd examples of either plant somewhere.
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Species accounts and distribution maps
     
52.002 .... B&F 0370    
Hornet Moth Sesia apiformis (Clerck, 1759) 
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Nottinghamshire status: Very rare in Nottinghamshire, with just a single known location since a record in 1986. 

Latest distribution (to March 2021): Remains known only from Nottingham University's Jubillee Campus, where larval exit holes can be found at the base of Poplar sp growing cloe to the A52 Derby Road.

It seems unlikely to believe that there are no other sites for this moth in the county. 

Hostplants: Poplars, especially Black Poplar Populus nigra.

Flight season: June and July.

Lure use: Reportedly best from 07:30h-10:30h in the morning.

 
 
52.003 .... B&F 0371    
Lunar Hornet Moth Sesia bembeciformis (Hübner, 1806)      
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Nottinghamshire status: Probably more common than the distribution map would suggest and is certainly an under-recorded moth in Nottinghamshire.

Latest distribution (to March 2021): Found in a band running south-west to north-east through the middle of the county, with a number of Trent Valley records, but by no means has a restricted distribution in Nottinghamshire.

It is our commonest Clearwing and will usually be found where there is plenty of mature Goat Sallow. Adults wander and will colonise new sites. Exit holes appeared on Goat Sallow growing at Eakring Flash within ten years of the site's formation in 1997.

Hostplants: Goat Sallow Salix caprea.

Flight season: July to August.

 

Lure use: In 2020, a pheremone lure was developed and sold by Anglian Lepidopterist Supplies. First trials with the lure at a number of sites, shows it works a treat in favourable weather, with three males attracted within five minutes on one occasion. It is very easily surveyed for during the Winter months, by looking for the old larval exit holes near the base of mature Goat Sallow Salix caprea trunks, but a more obvious method of searching during the Winter, is by looking for larval workings in the cut stumps of Goat Sallow.

 
52.005 .... B&F 0376    
Welsh Clearwing Synanthedon scoliaeformis (Borkhausen, 1789)
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Nottinghamshire status: Nationally has RDB3 status. The first county record concerned a male found on a Birch trunk at Sherwood Forest CP in July 2008 (Joynt, G.).

Further records of males attracted to pheremone lures in the location of the original sighting followed in 2009, 2010 and later years, the moth has proved more widespread, although very much contained within the Sherwood Forest NNR.

Latest distribution (to March 2021): Survey work using pheremone lures have found this moth to be present throughout the Sherwood Forest NNR, including Clipstone Old Quarter, Budby South Forest and Sherwood Heath.

There appear to be no records from any other suitable sites locally (including Clumber) though little work seems to have been done away from the CP area.

 

Hostplants: Silver Birch Betula pendula. Only live trees are used.

Flight season: Flies from June to July, with the majority of records coming in June.

Lure use: Males come easily to lure from mid-morning till early afternoon on favourable (warm and dry) days during the flight period.

 
52.007 .... B&F 0381    
Large Red-belted Clearwing Synanthedon culiciformis (Linnaeus, 1758)
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Nottinghamshire status: Scarce in the UK with Nationally notable B status. It remains restricted to the Sherwood Forest area, but in 2018 was recorded at Sherwood Pines by Mike Hill, indicating that it may be more widespread than presently thought.

Latest distribution (to March 2021): Found predominantly in the Sherwood Forest NNR. However, even at Sherwood Forest, it is an uncommon and localised moth which has had something of a transient existance and could go unrecorded for a number of years.

All of the recent Nottinghamshire records have come from Sherwood Forest Country Park, Clipstone Old Quarter and Budby South Forest. It was once described as being common on Budby South Forest and pupal exuviae were regularly found on Birch stumps.

 

It seems far from common in recent years and may remain undetected in small numbers over the wider Sherwood Forest NNR and Clumber Park areas.

Hostplants: Silver Birch Betula pendula, with females preferring to lay eggs in Birch stumps cut the previous year.

Flight season: An early flying species, occurring during May and June.

Lure use: Personally, Red-belted Clearwing has proved a  difficult moth to attract to pheremone lure and despite many attempts, we never had any success at attracting this moth. Heathland sites where Birch stumps remain would be the place to try for this moth, but rewards may be little.

 
52.008 .... B&F 0380     
Red-tipped Clearwing Synanthedon formicaeformis (Esper, 1783)
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Nottinghamshire status: Nationally notable B and previously rare, but now increasing across Nottinghamshire. Much of our present knowledge of Red-tipped Clearwing distribution in VC56, is largely down to the work of Rob Woodward, who has continued to visit existing and new sites in search of this attractive species.

Latest distribution (to March 2021): There are numerous known sites, including Attenborough NR, Netherfield and other Trent Valley sites. It has been proved to be present at a number of sites along the River Leen, northwards from Bulwell.

There have been a number of records from the Idle Valley NR, including at least two sightings of moths visiting waterside flowers.

Hostplants: Various Willows including Osier Willow Salix viminalis.

 
Flight season: A long season, from May to August.

Lure use:
Most success with the pheremone lure appears to be during the afternoon, apparently from 13:00h-18:00h.
 
52.011 .... B&F 0379    
Red-belted Clearwing Synanthedon myopaeformis (Borkhausen, 1789)
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Nottinghamshire status: This is without doubt an extremely rare moth in Nottinghamshire and to be honest, is the rarest of our clearwings at the present time.

Latest distribution (to March 2021): The only modern Red-belted Clearwing records are from from Martin Gray's Broadholme garden in 2007 and Sheila Wright and John Osborne's successful targetted surveys of orchards near Lambley and Thorpe-in-the-Glebe in 2010.

There appear to have been no firther reports, but it must be worth using a lure at any well established orchard. There must be some under-recording of this species in Nottinghamshire.

Hostplants: Apple Malus sp and occasionally Pear Pyrus sp are reported foodplants.

Flight season: June to August.

Lure use: Reported to work well anytime between 09:00h till as late as 18:00h, with best success between 11:00h and 13:00h.

 

 

 
52.012 .... B&F 0374    
Yellow-legged Clearwing Synanthedon vespiformis (Linnaeus, 1761)
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Nottinghamshire status: Scarce in the UK having Nationally notable B status. Yellow-legged Clearwing is largely confined to the Sherwood Forest and Clumber Park area of Nottinghamshire, but odd records suggest that it is by no means totally restricted to ancient Oak woodland.

Latest distribution (to March 2021): The use of pheremone lures has led to an increase in the number of records over recent years, following a renewed interest in Clearwing moths.

Prior to the turn of the present century, there was just a single historical Sherwood Forest record, dating back to 1877. But then an interesting 1997 record of larvae from Budby South Forest appeared, after being held in the Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire Entomological Society's database. Following the discovery of the Welsh Clearwing at Sherwood Forest CP in 2008, there has been an upsurge in the number of records.

 

Sherwood Forest CP has provided the bulk of these, including 29 males to lure (all potted seperately at the time) on 30/07/11.There are records from Hungerhill Allotments at Nottingham in 2002 and Oxton Bogs in 2010, so it could also occur at any large woodland containing mature Oak.

Hostplants: Oak is the only reported foodplant.

Flight season: June to August, with a clear peak in records coming during July.

Lure use: Usually an easy species to attract on warm afternoons, but can occasionally take a while to appear. Best success has been achieved in areas containing plenty of mature Oaks.

 
52.013 .... B&F 0373    
Currant Clearwing Synanthedon tipuliformis (Clerck, 1759)
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Nottinghamshire status: Nationally scarce B. Probably much more commonly recorded now than it was a few years ago, with a wider distribution than the distribution map shows and records often coming from suburban areas.

Latest distribution (to March 2021): This is the most likely Clearwing to occur in gardens, usually being found on allotments, fruit farms and old gardens. It has been recorded at several sites in the Mansfield area, so there is an element of under-recording, when it comes to its Nottinghamshire distribution.

Hostplants: Redcurrant, Blackcurrant and Gooseberry.

Flight season: June to July.

 
Lure use: Comes well to pheremone lure, pretty much at any time of the day, but there is a reported peak after 14:30h. The adults are often found sat openly on the leaves of the foodplant during the morning.
 
52.014 .... B&F 0382
Six-belted Clearwing Bembecia ichneumoniformis ([Denis & Schiffermüller], 1775)
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Nottinghamshire status: Originally rare nationally, Six-belted Clearwing's  has increased it's range northwards across much of the UK and it has certainly increased its Nottinghamshire range dramatically.

Latest distribution (to March 2021): The Six-belted Clearwing's success has come as a result of post-industrial landscaping of most former Colliery sites. Those sites with an abundance of Bird's-foot Trefoil, are now sure to hold numbers this moth and in part, the distribution of this moth portrays a once prosperous industry. The lack of records from former Collieries in the Mansfield and Worksop areas, is probably down to lack of recording, rather than Six-belted Clearwing being absent.

 

Hostplants: Bird's-foot Trefoil Lotus corniculatus and Kidney Vetch Anthyllis vulneraria, with the larva feeding on the plant roots.

Flight season: June through to August.

Lure use: Pheremones have proved successful for the majority of the day, but a peak occurs between 09:00h and 13:00h. Large numbers of males have been recorded on occasion.

 
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