The Red Oak Clearwing Borer: An Example of Wasp Mimicry


The red oak clearwing moth, Paranthrene simulans (Lepidoptera: Sesiidae), is one of those insects capable of deceiving the human eye by resembling a wasp. In this case the target organism attempts to be less susceptible to predation by resembling in morphology, coloration, and behavior a different species that is unpalatable or usually aggressive. The term used for this type of resemblance is called ‘Batesian mimicry’. The red oak clearwing borer renders the color pattern of hornets or yellowjackets, that is, a black-yellow and black-orange coloration of the abdomen and thorax (Figure 1).

Figure 1. Lateral view of the male red oak clearwing moth (Paranthrene simulans) (upper picture) and the yellow jacket wasp Vespula squamosa (lower) found in western Kentucky. (Photo: Armando Falcon-Brindis, UK).

Clear wing moths belong to the family Sesiidae, a group with about 1,500 described species that mostly occur in the tropics. The genus Paranthrene contains at least seven species occurring mainly from Mississippi to New York and Florida in the eastern United States; all of them with striking colors resembling wasps. The red oak clearwing borer, also known as the hornet clearwing, is a medium-sized species (12-15 mm of wing length) and is well distributed across the eastern region of the USA (Figure 2).

Hymenopteroid mimicry is not a unique strategy of sesiid moths since many other insect groups such as Hemiptera, Coleoptera, Lepidoptera, and Diptera have developed the type of mimicry described above.

Figure 2. Distribution of red oak clearwing moth in the United States (orange states). (Figure: Armando Falcon-Brindis, UK).

Host Plants, Biology & Pest Status

Red oak clearwing borer is a native moth from North America and was reported to attack the American chestnut (Castanea dentata), older nuttall (Quercus texana.), shumard (Quercus shumardii), eastern black oak (Quercus velutina.), and cherrybark oak (Quercus pagoda).

Female red oak clearwing borers lay eggs in bark crevices on lower trunks, then the larva bores 2-inch tunnels into the trunk (usually oak species) and feeds on the wood pulp to complete their development. Adults usually fly from April to June in the South and from June to July in northern states. Pupation occurs in spring of the second year. This species is usually attracted to pheromone traps baited with ZZA and EZA 2,13/ZZA 99:1, or blends.

Recent findings of the red oak clearwing moth occurred on sticky traps with pheromone lures set on peach trees at the orchard of the UK Research and Education Center at Princeton. These traps were placed there to trap lesser (Synanthedon pictipes) and greater (Synanthedon exitiosa) peach tree borers. Red oak clearwing moths were found in these traps by mid- and late May 2022. We did not detect any damage produced by red oak clearwing larvae. In fact, this species has never been reported as an orchard pest.

More Information

  • Butterflies and Moths of North America. Hornet Clearwing Paranthrene simulans (Grote, 1881). Accessed on 09 June 2022. Link
  • Taft, W.H., Smitley, D., Snow, J.W. 1991. A guide of the clearwing borers (Sesiidae) of the North and Central United States. North Central Regional Publication No. 394.
  • ENTFACT-213 – Lesser Peachtree Borer
  • Peach tree borer – Michigan State University
  • Lesser peachtree borer – Michigan State University

By Armando Falcon-Brindis, Entomology Research Analyst, and Raul T. Villanueva, Entomology Extension Specialist

Posted in Misc. Topics
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