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Birch Leafminer

The Birch Leafminer is a tiny, pestiferous moth whose larvae mine and cause damage to birch tree leaves, impacting their health and appearance

Birch Leafminer

The Birch Leafminer (Fenusa pusilla) is a small sawfly that is a common pest of birch trees. As the name suggests, the larvae of this insect mine the leaves of birch trees, leading to aesthetic damage that can detract from the tree’s appeal.

Host Plants

Birch Leafminer primarily affects birch trees (Betula spp.), including:

Regions impacted

The Birch Leafminer is native to Europe but has become a major pest of birches in North America.


Adult Birch Leafminers are small black sawflies measuring about 1/8 inch in length. They look like a small black fly or wasp, but unlike wasps, sawflies have a broad connection between the abdomen and the thorax.

When fully mature, the larvae of the Birch Leafminer resemble slightly flattened, cream-colored caterpillars, measuring approximately ¼ inch in length. Young larvae exhibit darkened spots on the thorax’s lower surface. The larvae are the damaging stage of the life cycle as they mine the leaves of birch trees.

Life Cycle

The Birch Leafminer can have up to four generations per year, depending on the climate. Its life cycle comprises four stages: egg, larva, pupa, and adult.

Egg: Adult Birch Leafminers emerge in the spring, usually around May, after overwintering in the soil as pupae. The females use their saw-like ovipositor to cut into the leaves of birch trees and deposit their eggs. Each female can lay about 30 to 40 eggs.

Larva: The eggs hatch within a week into small larvae that begin to feed on the leaf tissue, forming the characteristic leaf mines. The larvae continue to feed and grow for 2-3 weeks. During this time, the mines they create increase in size and become more visible. This larval stage causes the primary damage associated with Birch Leafminers.

Pupa: Once the larvae have fully grown, they drop to the ground and burrow into the soil to pupate for two to three weeks before emerging as adults. Larvae overwinter in the soil.

Adult: Adults emerge from the soil in the spring, starting the cycle anew. Adult sawflies have a short lifespan, living just long enough to mate and lay eggs for the next generation.

Damage and Detection


The damage caused by Birch Leafminers primarily affects the appearance of birch trees rather than their overall health or vitality. The key signs of Birch Leafminer damage are:

  • Leaf Mines: As the larvae feed on the tissue between the upper and lower surfaces of birch leaves, they create blotch-like, irregularly shaped mines. These mines are initially light green or transparent but turn brown as the tissue dies.
  • Premature Leaf Drop: Heavily infested leaves can become entirely brown and drop from the tree prematurely.
  • General Tree Appearance: While individual leaf mines may be small, heavy infestations can result in a large portion of the tree’s canopy appearing brown or bronze, detracting significantly from the tree’s aesthetic appeal.


Detecting Birch Leafminer infestations involves both visual inspection and looking for signs of their activity. Here’s what to look for:

  • Leaf Mines: The presence of leaf mines is the most obvious sign of Birch Leafminer activity. These can often be seen when looking up into the tree’s canopy, particularly with the sun behind the leaves.
  • Larvae or Pupae: Cut open a leaf mine, and you may find a small, grub-like larva inside. Similarly, if you dig in the soil beneath the tree, you might find the overwintering pupae.
  • Adult Sawflies: Although less common, you may also see adult sawflies.

Regular inspection, particularly in late spring and early summer when the larvae are actively feeding, is key to managing Birch Leafminer infestations effectively. Detecting the problem early allows control measures to be implemented before the infestation becomes too large.

Prevention and Control

Prevention and control of Birch Leafminer infestations necessitate a combination of strategies, including cultural practices, biological control, and the judicious use of chemical treatments when needed.

Cultural Control

  • This involves practices such as removing and destroying fallen leaves and any that show signs of infestation. This reduces the number of larvae that can enter the soil and overwinter, breaking the life cycle of the pest.
  • Pinch leaves to kill larvae in minor infestations in small trees.
  • The choice of birch variety can also influence the likelihood of infestation, with some varieties being more resistant to Birch Leafminers than others such as yellow birch (B. alleghaniensis), Japanese cherry birch (B. grossa), sweet birch (B. lenta). River birch (B. nigra) is also reported to be less susceptible to Birch Leafminer.

Biological Control

  • Natural predators, such as parasitic wasps, can help manage Birch Leafminer populations. There are several species, including those from the genera Chrysocharis, Diglyphus, and Cirrospilus, which can be particularly effective. The female wasp lays her eggs inside the leafminer larvae. When the wasp larvae hatch, they feed on the leafminer larvae, eventually killing them. Once fully grown, the wasp larvae pupate and emerge as adults, leaving behind the dead leafminer.
  • These beneficial insects can be encouraged in your landscape by minimizing the use of broad-spectrum insecticides and providing a variety of plant species that offer alternative food sources, such as nectar and pollen.

Chemical Control

  • Insecticides: Insecticides can be used to control Birch Leafminers, but their use should be targeted and limited to prevent harm to beneficial insects and the environment. Contact insecticides can be used in early spring to kill adult leafminers before they lay their eggs. Systemic insecticides, which are taken up by the tree and transported to the leaves, can be effective in controlling the larvae within the leaf mines. It’s essential that the timing of application is correct to ensure maximum effectiveness, ideally when the adults are active, or when the larvae are beginning to feed.
  • Pheromone Traps: Pheromone traps can be used to monitor the emergence and activity of adult leafminers, which can help determine the optimal timing for insecticide applications.
  • Tree Health: Maintain the overall health of your trees, as healthy trees are more resilient to pest damage. This includes regular watering, mulching, and proper fertilization.

Remember, an integrated pest management (IPM) approach combining these strategies based on regular monitoring and threshold levels is the most effective way to control pests such as the Birch Leafminer. As with all pest control methods, always follow product labels and local regulations when using any form of insecticide.

Plants that Attract Parasitoid Wasps

Anethum graveolens (Dill)
Callirhoe involucrata (Purple Poppy Mallow)
Coriandrum sativum (Cilantro)
Foeniculum vulgare (Fennel)
Linaria vulgaris (Yellow Toadflax)
Lobelia erinus (Trailing Lobelia)
Melissa officinalis (Lemon Balm)
Mentha pulegium (Pennyroyal)
Petroselinum crispum (Parsley)
Sedum kamtschaticum (Orange Stonecrop)
Tagetes tenuifolia (Signet Marigold)
Achillea (Yarrow)
Anthemis tinctoria (Golden Marguerite)
Cosmos Flowers
Lobularia maritima (Sweet Alyssum)
While every effort has been made to describe these plants accurately, please keep in mind that height, bloom time, and color may differ in various climates. The description of these plants has been written based on numerous outside resources.

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