5 May 2007

Unknown stripey beetle on Physalis peruviana

Those of you lucky enough to have had a childhood wandering where you wished with your "gang" will recognise a Physalis peruviana, though perhaps not by that name. This plant grows readily from seed and can very quickly colonise any old space as the plant grows, fruits and seeds all in a month or two. Poor soil doesn't seem to slow it down either, so you can have someone's old, neglected garden or a piece of wastleand just out of town covered in these plants. The most memorable thing about them from a kid's point of view is that they have wonderful small berries of golden sun-ripened fruit just the perfect size for a little mouth. Each day sees new ripenings, and the cropping period extends over a long period of time, peaking in the last few weeks of the summer school holidays in Australia.

So raiding an area overgrown with Chinese gooseberries, as some call them, whilst studying the various insects which like to call the plant home can usefully fill many hours of a kid's life.

Whilst reliving the odd happy memory and searching the plants for those yummy berries, which fortunately still taste good to my adult palate, I have also been watching the insects which call the plant home.

The eggs on the right belong to a stripey beetle, which for want of its real name I have christened the Golden Humbug Beetle.

She laid a group of eggs like this on a large number of otherwise unoccupied leaves. They are the oddest little group of long cylindrical pointy upwards eggs, each with a brown dot on the top and always laid underneath the leaf, out of sight.

As they hatched and grew the larvae marched outwards eating everything in their path. They were a fairly ugly looking moving mouth.

This picture I love. It shows the larvae leaving behind the leaf they have completely eaten away and marching off to pastures anew, almost like a family fleeing the aftermath of some terrible calamity and searching for a new, safer life elsewhere.

They found somewhere better on the next leaf across and began to grow and grow.
However their lacky of beauty remained with them.

Their bodies now look like bloated pieces of dirt or tiny pieces of mud. The photograph has been enlarged and in real life my eye passed over them thinking them rubbish. The photograph when placed up on my computer monitor showed me they were living creatures, with very strange misshapen bodies.

The end result is these stripey beetles. Their growth cycle is just as speedy as the plant which they colonised, as many beetles and eggs continued growing, mating and hatching for weeks. There are still a few left though the odd cooler night seems to have slowed them down. The plant is absolutely covered in fruit which I hope still has time to ripen, so having its leaves eaten doesn't seem to have done it any lasting damage.