NC State Extension Publications

Description and Biology

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Hibiscus sawfly adults, Atomacera decepta, are small (316 inch), black, flylike insects in the family Argidae. The thorax is reddish brown on top. We have no detailed study of the life history of the hibiscus sawfly, but the caterpillars have been found from May to October. The eggs are inserted into the leaf tissue one at a time near the margin and a small "blister" forms over each egg. The tiny, pale green worms hatch and feed on the lower leaf surface. Older caterpillars have black heads and tiny black spines on each body segment. They are slightly gregarious with up to three larvae feeding on the bottom or top of one leaf. When mature the larvae spin a tough silken cocoon on the base of the plant or nearby. From that emerges a new adult to mate and lay eggs. Probably six generations occur per year.

Dorsal view of an adult hibiscus sawfly

Adult hibiscus sawflies are small, fly-like insects with a brownish thorax.

Photo by J.R. Baker

The hibiscus sawfly caterpillar feeding on hibiscus.

Older hibiscus sawfly caterpillars chew holes in mallow leaves.

Photo by J.R. Baker

A hibiscus sawfly cocoon on what is left of a hibiscus leaf.

Mature hibiscus sawfly caterpillars spin a tough, brownis cocoon usually at the base of the host plant.

Photo by J.R. Baker

Host Plants

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The caterpillars of Atomacera decepta feed on hibiscus, hollyhock, mallow and perhaps other members of the cotton family but usually not rose of Sharon, okra, or cotton. This insect is called the hibiscus sawfly as hibiscus is its most frequently reported host plant. This sawfly sometimes completely skeletonizes the leaves of hollyhock, leaving a lacy network of leaf veins.

Residential Recommendation

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This insect should not be particularly resistant to pesticides. Sevin or any other pesticide labeled for landscape insect pests should give more than adequate control. Do not spray open blossoms to avoid killing pollinators.


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For assistance with a specific problem, contact your local N.C. Cooperative Extension Center.

This Factsheet has not been peer reviewed.


Professor Emeritus
Entomology and Plant Pathology

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Publication date: May 19, 2014
Revised: March 25, 2024

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