Because it’s still been more winter than spring so far this year, I’m turning to my photos from last year at this time for today’s column. 

The honeysuckle sawfly, or Abia americana, has a shimmering copper sheen, and its round, striped body mimics a bee. But if you get close to one, you’ll notice it has knobs on the end of its antennae, which is something butterflies have, but bees don’t. 

Sawflies are nonconformists; they defy being typecast. They’re in the same order as bees and wasps, Hymenoptera, but they don’t have a wasp waist or a bee’s pollen-collecting hairs. They start life looking like a caterpillar, but sawfly larvae have more prolegs (at least six) than butterflies or moths, which have five or fewer.

The common names of most sawflies have adopted the name of the food the larvae feed on. In this case, it’s primarily honeysuckle, but also snowberry, which is more common at the Arboretum. Believe it or not, females lay eggs in between the tissue layers of leaves, straddling the edge of the leaf. Adults only live for a week or two. Long enough to reproduce.

Last June, I saw this sawfly larva, which I think is a honeysuckle sawfly. Most sawflies prefer communal living when they’re young, and they’ve developed some pretty impressive, choreographed moves to warn off predators. The Abia genus, however, feeds alone, and when they’re messed with, they make a mess. Specifically, they excrete a clear, defensive liquid that scientists call “reflex bleeding.”

Stay curious!

See more of Karen’s work here.


BugLady’s column on a similar species: Accessed 4/5/23. 

Abia information on Sawfly GenUS: Accessed 4/5/23.