Virginia Tech® home

Elm Zigzag Sawfly



Authors as Published

Eric Day, Extension Specialist and Theresa A. Dellinger, Diagnostician, Dept. of Entomology, Virginia Tech


The elm zigzag sawfly (EZS), Aproceros leucopoda, is a non-native defoliator of elms. EZS attacks several different species of elm and is most commonly found on Siberian elm (Ulmus pumila). The distinctive zigzag notching made by the larvae while feeding is the basis for its common name (Figs. 1 & 2). Although the larvae resemble caterpillars, sawflies belong to the Order Hymenoptera. EZS is native to east Asia but is now found in Europe and North America.

Elm Zigzag Sawfly damage on a leaf.
Figure 1. Larvae and damage from the elm zigzag sawfly. Eric Day, Virginia Tech.


The damaging stage is a sawfly larva that closely resembles a caterpillar (Figs. 1 & 2). It is pale green with a distinctive black strip on the head as well as T-shaped markings on the legs. As EZS prepares to pupate it spins a silken net like case (Fig. 3). The pupae turn from pale green to dark as they pupate. Pupal cases can be found on elm leaves, under an infested tree, and on nearby objects.

Elm zigzag sawfly larva and damage done to a leaf, close up.
Figure 2. Damage and larva of the elm zigzag sawfly. Eric Day, Virginia Tech.
Elm zigzag sawfly pupa and net like case.
Figure 3. Pupa and case of the elm zigzag sawfly. Eric Day, Virginia Tech.

The adult stage is a shiny black sawfly with pale legs and dark wings (Figs. 4 and 5). They measure 6-7 mm in length All EZS are female as no males have been found. The females are parthenogenetic and lay viable eggs without mating.

Adult, leaf notch, and egg scar (red arrow) of the elm zigzag sawfly.
Figure 4. Adult, leaf notch, and egg scar (red arrow) of the elm zigzag sawfly. Eric Day, Virginia Tech.
Adult elm zigzag sawfly.
Figure 5. Adult elm zigzag sawfly. Gyorgy Csoka, Hungary Forest Research Institute,


Initial damage starts as a small egg laying scar on the edge of the elm leaf where the female EZS inserted an egg (Fig. 4). As the small sawfly larva begins feeding, it makes the characteristic zigzag notch that extends about 5-10 mm inward from the leaf’s edge. Multiple larvae may feed on the same leaf. If multiple larvae on a leaf feed without interruption, the entire leaf may be consumed. Heavily infested trees may have partial or complete defoliation.


EZS rarely needs to be controlled as healthy elms can recover from sporadic defoliation. In addition, treating large trees is difficult and expensive. If control is desired, a general-purpose insecticide labeled for use on trees and shrubs can be used. Treat as soon as EZS larvae are found feeding in the spring.


Elm is the only known host plant for EZS, particularly Siberian elm. In Virginia, EZS has also been found on English, lacebark, and hybrid elms.


EZS was discovered in Virginia in 2021 and is most common in the Shenandoah Valley. Its entire range in Virginia is not entirely known to date. EZS is also found in Maryland, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and Quebec.

Virginia Cooperative Extension materials are available for public use, reprint, or citation without further permission, provided the use includes credit to the author and to Virginia Cooperative Extension, Virginia Tech, and Virginia State University.

Virginia Cooperative Extension is a partnership of Virginia Tech, Virginia State University, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and local governments. Its programs and employment are open to all, regardless of age, color, disability, sex (including pregnancy), gender, gender identity, gender expression, national origin, political affiliation, race, religion, sexual orientation, genetic information, military status, or any other basis protected by law

Publication Date

January 11, 2023