Large rose sawfly

The caterpillar like larvae of large rose sawflies feed on the leaves of wild and cultivated roses.

Save to My scrapbook
Larvae of large rose sawfly. Image: RHS, Horticultural Science

Quick facts

Common name: Large rose sawfly
Scientific name: Arge pagana and Arge ochropus
Plants affected: Wild and cultivated roses
Main symptoms: Split shoots and defoliation
Most active: Late May to October

What is large rose sawfly?

Sawflies are a group of insects suborder (Symphyta) of the Hymenoptera (bees, ants and wasps). There are about 500 species of sawfly in Britain. They have caterpillar like larvae that feed on plant material and are named after the saw like egg laying organ used by females to lay eggs in plant material. Adults can come in a range of colours many are black, green orange or striped yellow and black. Most are small (< 1cm) but some species such as the Birch sawfly (Cimbex femoratus) can be over 2 cm long. Several species can be found in gardens and are part of the biodiversity a healthy garden will support. More information can be found at The Sawflies of Britain and Ireland webpages

Large rose sawflies have pale spotted black, green and yellow larvae that eat the leaves of roses, sometimes causing severe defoliation. The adults have orange/yellow abdomens with mainly black thorax and heads.

Roses are also hosts of other sawflies such as the rose leaf-rolling sawfly and rose slug sawfly or slugworm.

Symptoms

You may see the following symptoms:

  • The female sawflies lay eggs in soft young rose stems, they can sometimes be found with their rear ends inserted in the stems. The stems often split open where the eggs were laid, resulting in elongate scars
  • Whitish green, caterpillar-like larvae with black spots and yellow blotches can cause  defoliation in early and late summer

Control

Healthy roses can cope with some defoliation and the presence of some larvae can be tolerated.

Check roses frequently from spring onwards so action can be taken before a damaging infestation has developed. When choosing control options you can minimise harm to non-target animals by starting with the methods in the non-pesticide control section. If this is not sufficient to reduce the damage to acceptable levels then you may choose to use pesticides. Within this group the shorter persistence pesticides (that are usually certified for organic growing) are likely to be less damaging to non-target wildlife than those with longer persistence and/or systemic action.

Non-pesticide control

  • Where possible tolerate populations of sawfly, plants often recover from defoliation and roses can support several sawfly species
  • Encourage predators and other natural enemies of sawfly in the garden, such as birds and ground beetles.
  • Check plants regularly from May for the presence egg laying females, egg scars and larvae. Eggs within the scars can be destroyed by running a fingernail (or equivalent) down the scar. Larvae can be removed by hand where practical
Pesticide control

The RHS believes that avoiding pests, diseases and weeds by good practice in cultivation methods, cultivar selection, garden hygiene and encouraging or introducing natural enemies, should be the first line of control. If chemical controls are used, they should be used only in a minimal and highly targeted manner.

  • If numbers of larvae are too high for hand picking, control may be achieved by spraying with pesticides. Spraying at dusk is likely to give the best results
  • Organic contact insecticides containing natural pyrethrinrum (e.g. Bug Clear Gun for Fruit & Veg, Neudorff Bug Free Bug and Larvae Killer). Several applications of this short persistence products may be necessary to give good control
  • More persistent contact-action insecticides include the synthetic pyrethroids lambda-cyhalothrin (e.g. Westland Resolva Bug Killer), deltamethrin (e.g. Provanto Ultimate Fruit & Vegetable Bug Killer, Provanto Sprayday Greenfly Killer) and cypermethrin (e.g. Py Bug Killer)
  • A systemic containing the active ingredient Flupyradifurone (Provanto Smart Bug Killer) is available for use on ornamentals and selected edibles
  • The systemic neonicotinoid insecticide acetamiprid (e.g. Bug Clear Ultra) is also available
Follow label instructions when using pesticides.

Plants in flower should not be sprayed due to the danger to bees and other pollinating insects.

Inclusion of a pesticide product does not indicate a recommendation or endorsement by RHS Gardening Advice. It is a list of products currently available to the home gardener.

Download

Pesticides for gardeners (pdf document outlining pesticides available to home gardeners)

Biology

In Britain there are two species of large rose sawfly: Arge pagana and A. ochropus. The adult insects of both species have yellow abdomens with the legs, thorax and heads being mostly black. Arge pagana is the more common species. 

Rows of eggs are inserted into soft young rose shoots and female sawflies are sometimes seen dangling from such stems, attached only by their saw-like egg-laying organs.

After hatching, the larvae feed together in groups. They are pale green with black spots and yellow blotches, and are up to 25mm (about 1in) long. When fully fed, they go into the soil to pupate.

The large rose sawfly (Arge pagana) will produce two (sometimes three) generations from May to October. Arge ochropus usually has a single generation in early summer, but sometimes there is a second generation in late summer.

Join the RHS today and get 12 months for the price of 9

Join now

Gardeners' calendar

Find out what to do this month with our gardeners' calendar

Advice from the RHS

You may also like

Get involved

The Royal Horticultural Society is the UK’s leading gardening charity. We aim to enrich everyone’s life through plants, and make the UK a greener and more beautiful place.