On the move: Berberis sawfly larva heads for London

The Natural History Museum in London have asked for a sample ‘never-before-seen-in-Yorkshire’ Berberis sawfly larva, so yesterday morning I went out into the garden to select one for them.

It’s always fun going out to the berberis bush to play ‘spot the sawfly larva’, as I never know if I’m going to see any, or where exactly they’ll be. They are very still during the day-time, and are often to be found nestling along the bit of a leaf they’ve been nibbling. So, a lot of the time all you see is 3 black legs and a bit of black head peeping out over the nibbled edge of a leaf.

I was a bit concerned that the strong winds overnight might have dislodged them from the bush, but after a minute or so I had spotted 4 larvae. I selected one to send off the Natural History Museum, sitting by a nice little clump of leaves, and snipped off this bit of the bush, to send to London.

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It turned out there were two larvae on that particular stem, so I returned one to the bush.

It’s not only an actual larva that the museum wants to see. They also want to know exactly what species/variety of berberis bush the larvae are on. (“A major problem bedevilling interpretation of patterns of host-plant usage by sawflies is the absence of voucher plant material.”)  So, I also snipped off two stems from the bush, one with leaves devoured by the larvae (who leave the central vein of the leaves in tact), and one with untouched leaves.

I packed these two stems up carefully in a sealed plastic bag, then a tin, then a jiffy bag, to be sent off to the Royal Botanic Garden in Edinburgh, where a formal identification would take place. (The tin was necessary as the berberis has vicious thorns that would have stabbed right through the jiffy bag, and I didn’t want to be sued by the Post Office for inflicting grievous bodily harm on a postman!)

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The larva, meanwhile, I packed in a little plastic pot, with some extra berberis leaves for sustenance. My husband kindly jabbed some holes in the top of the pot. I posted the larva Next Day Delivery to the Natural History Museum. Will the larva still be alive when it reaches there?

Find out more about Berberis sawflies (including photos and videos of eggs, larvae and adults) here

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