Plan A (i.e. posting a live berberis sawfly larva to London – see 1st November post) didn’t work, due to circumstances beyond my control. So the expert from the Natural History Museum in London proposed Plan B: send him some larvae preserved in 70-80% ethanol.

Problem: I have never preserved an insect in ethanol before. I have never preserved anything in ethanol before. So, I had no idea how to go about doing this.

Solution: Ask a man who knows! I phoned up Dr Dave Chesmore, a moth expert at the University of York. He often helps me identify moths I have found in our garden. And it was he who told me that the ‘moth caterpillars’ I had found on our berberis were actually sawfly larvae.

Dave was wonderful. He said he had some spare ethanol, and could pop round that afternoon after work and show me how to go about preserving my samples.

Next problem: Were there any larvae left on the berberis? I had been away over the weekend, and there had been some frosts during that time which had put paid to my 6-foot tall nyger plant. So, could the berberis sawfly larvae have survived the cold weather?

Answer: Yes! I went out to the berberis bush, and found one – just one mind – berberis sawfly larva. So, I snipped off the stem it was on, brought it inside, and waited for Dave to arrive with his ethanol.

Dave arrived with a small jar with about 3cm of ethanol in, and just popped the larva into it. I have to say I felt a bit squeamish at this point, but Dave assured me the larva would just get intoxicated, and die quickly and happily. I told myself it was in the interests of science, and looked away!

Berberis sawfly larva in jar of ethanol

So, I now have a preserved berberis sawfly larva to send to London for conclusive identification.

Berberis sawfly larva in ethanol, 6.11.06

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

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