Wednesday, 20 July 2016

Ten beltin' six-belted clearwings

At the third attempt today I finally caught up with that most unlikely moth, the six-belted clearwing, a day flying wasp mimic. I'd heard from a friend that they were on the wing at Neumans Flash near Northwich on Sunday and I've spent the past two lunch breaks looking for them to no avail. They can be very difficult to spot, especially since they fly more like hoverflies than moths, and there are plenty of hoverflies and wasps on the wing at the moment to confuse matters.

However today I had the afternoon off and could therefore be more patient and move more slowly. I spent my time searching along the bund footpath, specifically in areas where the caterpillars preferred foodplant grows, common bird's-foot trefoil Lotus corniculatus. I walked slowly up and down the path several times for nearly an hour and a half before I finally spotted one, a brief view but at least I knew they were still about and I was in the right area. Once I'd seen one I now started to see others, and in the end I saw about 10.

It was easy to see why they had been so elusive. Fast flying and hard to follow, landing either very briefly or  disappearing immediately into thick vegetation, virtually the only chance of locating one was in flight, but blink and I'd lost it. Photography therefore was next to impossible. Typically I'd follow one, see it land, raise the camera, spend a second trying to locate it in the view finder, by which time it had flown again and I couldn't re-locate it. Like most clearwings one of the easiest ways to see them is to lure them to pheromones as I have done in the past with currant clearwings. But that's kind of cheating!

How many of these are overlooked as wasps? Although it's generally acknowledged that most clearwings are easier to see with pheromones, they're certainly not impossible to see without them, and all three of the species I have seen I have initially found without pheromones, simply by looking in the correct habitat.

The other two species from this family that I have seen are currant clearwing, once in Newton-le-Willows and once in St Helens, and thrift clearwing, an unexpected bonus on Bardsey Island whilst twitching the Cretzchmar's bunting in 2015.

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