–by Dr. Raymond Cloyd
We are receiving numerous questions regarding insects feeding and completely devouring rose plants. These insects are sawflies, and there are at least two species that attack roses during this time of year: the rose slug (Endelomyia aethiops) and bristly rose slug (Cladius difformis). Rose slugs are the immature or larval stage of sawflies, which are black to yellow colored wasps.
Rose sawfly females create pockets or slits along the edges of rose leaves with their saw-like ovipositor (egg-laying devise) and insert individual eggs. Larvae hatch from eggs and resemble a slug. The larvae are 1.2 cm long when full-grown and yellow-green with an orange head (Figure 1). Larvae eventually fall on the soil surface to pupate. Rose slugs overwinter as pupae in earthen cells created by the larvae. There is typically one generation per year in Kansas. Bristly rose slug larvae are pale-green and 1.5 to 2.0 cm in length. The body is covered with numerous bristle-like hairs (Figure 2). There is generally one generation per year in Kansas.
Figure 1: Rose Sawfly Larvae Feeding on Rose Leaf
Figure 2: Bristly Rose Slug Larvae Feeding on Spirea Plant
Rose slug larvae feed on the underside of rose leaves; resulting in leaves with a skeletonized appearance (Figures 3 and 4) and eventually they create notches or holes on the leaf margins. Bristly rose slug larvae feed on the underside of rose leaves and also cause leaves to appear skeletonized. However, the larvae may chew larger holes than the rose slug.
Figure 3: Damage on Rose Plant Caused by Rose Slug
Figure 4: Damage on Rose Leaf Caused by Rose Slug
Small infestations of either the rose sawfly or bristly rose slug can be removed by hand and placed into a container of soapy water. A forceful water spray will quickly dislodge sawfly larvae from rose plants and they will not be able to crawl back onto rose plants. There are a number of contact insecticides with various active ingredients that are effective in suppressing populations of both sawflies. However, the bacterium, Bacillus thuringiensis subsp. kurstaki (sold as Dipel or Thuricide) will have no activity on sawflies as this compound only works on caterpillars.
—Dr. Raymond Cloyd
Caterpillars are the larval stage of butterflies and moths; whereas the larval stage of sawflies is greasy looking and slug-like with the adults resembling wasps. Remember, caterpillars are in the insect order Lepidoptera (butterflies and moths) whereas sawflies are in the order Hymenoptera (ants, bees, and wasps). There are a number of caterpillars and sawflies that feed on horticultural crops. Common caterpillar pests include bagworms, eastern tent caterpillar, fall webworm, mimosa webworm, yellownecked caterpillar, walnut caterpillar, cutworms, European corn borer, and tomato/tobacco hornworms. Sawflies that feed on plants include the European pine sawfly, brownheaded ash sawfly, rose sawfly, and scarlet oak sawfly. Sawfly larvae resemble caterpillars; however, there is a difference.
There are two ways to distinguish between caterpillars and sawflies. First, sawfly larvae have prolegs (stubby-looking legs) on every segment of the abdomen whereas caterpillars are typically missing prolegs. In Figure 1, a caterpillar is on the top and sawfly on the bottom. Second, caterpillar larvae have hairs or crochets on their feet while sawfly larva do not have hairs or crochets on their feet, which is shown in Figure 2, with the caterpillar prolegs on the top and sawfly prolegs on the bottom. Why is it important to know the difference between caterpillars and sawflies? Well, one of the common insecticides recommended for use against young caterpillars is Bacillus thuringiensis subsp. kurstaki that is sold under many trade names including Dipel and Thuricide. This is a bacterium that must be ingested or consumed by the target insect pest, in this case, caterpillars, in order for death to occur. However, the insecticide has no direct effect on sawfly larvae. Therefore, it is important to correctly identify the “caterpillar-like” insect before selecting an insecticide. Specimens may be sent to Kansas State University, Department of Entomology (Manhattan, KS) or the Kansas State University Diagnostic Clinic in the Department of Plant Pathology (Manhattan, KS).