Photo by Melody

Mallow Sawfly, Hibiscus Sawfly (Atomacera decepta)

Order: Hymenoptera (hy-men-OP-ter-a) (Info)
Family: Argidae
Genus: Atomacera
Species: decepta


No positives
2 neutrals
4 negatives


This bug has been reportedly found in the following regions:

Anniston, Alabama
Vincent, Alabama
Barling, Arkansas
Clinton, Connecticut
Wilmington, Delaware
Atlanta, Georgia
West Des Moines, Iowa
Brookeville, Maryland
Columbia, Maryland
Pasadena, Maryland
Billerica, Massachusetts
Brockton, Massachusetts
Clarklake, Michigan
Temperance, Michigan
Grenada, Mississippi
Hudson, New Hampshire
Blackwood, New Jersey
Coram, New York
Henrietta, New York
Port Washington, New York
Corning, Ohio
Pataskala, Ohio
Quakertown, Pennsylvania
Summerville, South Carolina
Spring Hill, Tennessee
Spring, Texas

By DebinSC
Thumbnail #1 of Mallow Sawfly,  Hibiscus Sawfly (Atomacera decepta) by DebinSC

By DebinSC

Thumbnail #2 of Mallow Sawfly,  Hibiscus Sawfly (Atomacera decepta) by DebinSC

By fly_girl

Thumbnail #3 of Mallow Sawfly,  Hibiscus Sawfly (Atomacera decepta) by fly_girl

By DiOhio

Thumbnail #4 of Mallow Sawfly,  Hibiscus Sawfly (Atomacera decepta) by DiOhio

By claypa

Thumbnail #5 of Mallow Sawfly,  Hibiscus Sawfly (Atomacera decepta) by claypa

By claypa

Thumbnail #6 of Mallow Sawfly,  Hibiscus Sawfly (Atomacera decepta) by claypa

By Sarahskeeper

Thumbnail #7 of Mallow Sawfly,  Hibiscus Sawfly (Atomacera decepta) by Sarahskeeper

There are a total of 13 photos.
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Member Notes:

Neutral Magpye On Aug 21, 2006, Magpye from NW Qtr, AR
(Zone 6a) wrote:

This pest of hibiscus, hollyhock, and other ornamentals has been called the hibiscus sawfly in the scientific literature. However, it attacks several members of the mallow family, Malvaceae, and is perhaps best referred to as the mallow sawfly.

Adult Atomacera decepta are small and stout, not quite a quarter inch long. They are mostly black, except for a yellowish brown area on top of the thorax of many specimens, and the wings are smoky. Mature larvae are pale green, have a dark head, and reach about half an inch long. Each thoracic and abdominal segment bears a transverse row of four to six truncate tubular glands. The species occurs from New England south to Florida, and west to Missouri, Arkansas, and Texas.

The mallow sawfly is considered a minor pest, but when it invades foliage of lovingly tended ornamental plants, turning it to lacy skeletons, the gardener’s paradise surely is in major crisis. Plants especially susceptible to attack by the mallow sawfly include the popular ornamentals hollyhock (Alcea rosea), rose mallow (Hibiscus moscheutos), and some other Hibiscus species. The mallow sawfly shows little or no interest in some other economically important malvaceous plants, including cotton, okra, and rose of Sharon.

Adult females lay eggs in the upper surfaces of leaves, near the leaf margin, producing blister-like swellings. When the larvae hatch, they move to the underside of the leaf and begin feeding. Early instars feed only on the undersides of leaves, scraping away most tissue, but creating small “windows” by leaving thin, transparent layers. Later instars feed on both lower and upper surfaces of the leaves, avoiding large veins, and they perforate the foliage completely. Mature larvae pupate in cocoons that they spin at the base of the plant. The species has up to six generations per year, and adults are active from mid spring until frost.

Negative CaptMicha On Mar 31, 2009, CaptMicha from Brookeville, MD
(Zone 7a) wrote:

I hate these bugs. Every year they come and skeletonize my hardy hibiscus.

One year I got fed up and applied systemic chemicals and it took care of the problem but since the plants attract hummingbirds, it wasn't a very good solution.

Neutral PeteM On Jun 12, 2009, PeteM from Brush, CO wrote:

I definitely have something eating my hollyhocks.
The fly I have is not, by any means "stout", but does have similarities. Being from Colorado the geography doesn't work with the other comments.

Negative blupit007 On May 31, 2010, blupit007 from Clinton, CT
(Zone 6b) wrote:

The larva go after my Hardy Hibiscus every year. They are a BIG problem. They completely annihilate the leaves. Makes for a pretty sad plant. I never had a problem with my tropical hybrids though. This is the first year that I saw the adult Sawfly. It wasn't until the BugFiles that I put the two of them together. As for a solution, would love to hear one. Please tell me how to get rid of them.

Negative SunnyMD On Aug 16, 2012, SunnyMD from Pasadena, MD wrote:

3 yrs ago, I had never seen nor heard of sawflies here in MD. But for the past 2 summers, they devastated my hibiscus. They look like tiny, common house flies, with an orange/rust spot on the back. They swarm around the hibiscus all day most of June and into July, and they lay eggs on it. When offspring is born, they eat the leaves to lacey shreds, stunting its growth, and ruining chances of flowers. IF YOU SEE SAWFLIES AROUND YOUR BUSH, THEN YOU SHOULD ACT AGAINST THEM QUICKLY BEFORE THEY LAY EGGS.

Unfortunately I have not found an easy and environmentally friendly way to repel them. My organic spray does not affect these pests, and many brands don't either. Ortho systemic insecticide kills them, but I don’t want to harm beneficial insects nor the environment. My compromise this yr was to hand spray Ortho, aiming at just the flies and trying to avoid flower buds and greenery. The flies swarmed in dozens around the bush, so it was easy to blast many at a time. Days later, more flies would return, so I spot sprayed often but sparingly, trying to avoid wetting most of the greenery and flower buds. A few exposed outer leaves got sprayed, because sawflies kept landing there, but most of the bush remained unaffected and healthy. By mid July, the pests were gone. I did all this just this current summer, and it was a lot of labor, whew! It now is August, and for the 1st time in 3 yrs, I finally have hibiscus blooms again.

Btw, I read healthy plants resist pests better than weak plants, so I will be adding compost and fish emulsion every season from now on. Good luck gardeners!

Negative j3maloney On Mar 1, 2014, j3maloney from Elsmere, DE wrote:

Like others, I hate this bug! It turns my beautiful Kopper King hibiscus into lace in a matter of days. I have tried the "Double digit insecticide" (squashing them between finger and thumb), but while it's gratifying, there's no end to them - they just keep coming. I tried insecticidal soap with no luck, so I, too, finally resorted to a systemic and I tried to use it just as the plant was leafing out in hopes it would stop the infestation early. This worked pretty well and allowed the plant to do really well through the flowering period, but the flies returned, although not as many.

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