Today I break my four-month silence to bring you this:
Yesterday morning while we were eating breakfast on the back deck, Julia exclaimed something like “The poop beetles are eating the groundcherry!” This wasn’t news to me; a week or so ago I had noticed the tiny larvae, with poop piled on their backs, on a leaf of one of the potted groundcherry plants we had overwintered indoors with the hope of actually getting some fruit out of them this year. But when I looked over at the plant now, I saw the reason for her alarm: the top of the plant had been reduced to a “Y” of two blunt, naked branches, and when I went over to inspect, I saw that each fork of the Y was topped with a “flower” of larvae that were working together to munch the branch down to nothing. I thought their symmetrical arrangement produced an image that, while somewhat stomach-churning—especially in the middle of breakfast—was also oddly compelling. So of course I ran to get my camera. And then I gathered up all the larvae and threw them to the chickens, even though I knew they would react exactly as they did: come running up excitedly to see the latest offering, then stop suddenly a foot or two away, cock their heads quizzically, and walk away.
If you’re not familiar with these larvae, here’s a side view of the same scene to give you a better sense of what we’re looking at:
They are larvae of the three-lined potato beetle (Chrysomelidae: Lema daturaphila, or another similar Lema species). And being the good botanists that they are, they know that groundcherries (Solanaceae: Physalis) have nothing to do with cherries (Rosaceae: Prunus), but belong to the nightshade family, along with potato, tomato, eggplant, and goji.
Here’s an adult found on our deck railing last June—when I don’t think we had any nightshades there to speak of:
And another on one of our goji bushes seven years ago, being inspected by a group of Lasius ants.