Tufted caterpillars

Vapourer moth (Orygia antiqua) caterpillar on strawberry tree (Arbutus unedo)

I spotted this stunning caterpillar munching away on the strawberry tree that I planted last winter. When I looked it up I found that it is, I think, a vapourer moth caterpillar. Everything I read suggested that these caterpillars feed on deciduous trees, especially fruit trees. So I thought that it must have fallen down from one of the neighbouring trees. But looking more closely, I noticed three of its shed skins on the undersides of the strawberry tree’s leaves. So it would seem it has completed its caterpillar life stage here, quite happily eating the strawberry tree’s evergreen leaves. In total, this one caterpillar has eaten less than one leaf. I read that they are “no longer a significant pest in orchards because of the use of insecticides”…

I also spotted another tufted caterpillar on a snowy mespilus shrub (Amelanchier lamarckii). It’s not as impressive as the vapourer, but still quite striking. It too is a moth caterpillar, this time of the grey dagger (Acronicta psi).

Caterpillar of grey dagger moth on snow mespilus

It always puzzles me that many people say they like butterflies; but they think moths are somehow less nice; and caterpillars are purely pests.




Privet leaf miner damage

Following the winter’s damage, I’ve been keeping an eye out to make sure the privet bushes recover OK. By and large, they are doing just that. However, I’d say some are a little weaker than would be usual, but it’s hard to tell. One thing I have noticed though is a surge in the amount of leaf miner damage.

Damage on a privet leaf caused by leaf mining caterpillars (Gracillaria syringella)

The damage first shows as brownish marks on the leaves. They quickly expand to become a large brown blister. By this stage the blisters are easy to pull open and inside there are little tribes of larvae living a sheltered life between the upper and lower leaf surfaces.

Inside the blister there are little tiny caterpillars – they’re quite hard to see and to photograph because as soon as their blister is burst they try and wriggle away to hide

These larvae will grow up to become tiny little micro moths – Gracillaria syringella. As the name suggests, they also mine lilac (Syringa) leaves and are known as lilac leaf miners as well as privet leaf miners. There are plenty of them on the lilac bushes this year too.

Leaf miner damage on a lilac leaf
…and here are the larvae inside the lilac leaf’s blister


Cork oaks: assessing winter’s damage

Winter has been long and fickle this year. Mainly, I’d say, it’s been drier and colder than usual, with fewer storms. But between the cold periods there have been unseasonably warm spells (up to 20C); between the dry spells there have been huge rain storms; and between the calm spells there have been some ferocious and freezing winds. Tipyn o bopeth (a bit of everything) really and quite challenging in the garden.

The young cork oaks (which are now two and three years old) have mainly suffered from the tortrix moth caterpillars, as per usual.

Tortrix moth caterpillar damage on cork oak

But in addition, they have also been being eaten by some kind of leaf miner…

Leaf miner and freeze damage on cork oak

and the younger trees have suffered a little from the lack of moisture and freezing winds – showing in the orangey-bronzey tints you can see  in the picture above, alongside the dull buff colour where the leaf miners have stripped the living cells.

However, I’m happy to say, that they all seem to have come through OK and have plenty of new buds for this year’s growth. Hopefully winter will soon go away and they can put on some strong new growth through the summer.

Currant blister aphids

The the new leaves have recently unfurled on a redcurrant I bought over the winter. And the leaves have bright red blisters.

Discoloured blistering on a young redcurrant leaf

These blisters look like a text book image for currant blister aphids. Sure enough, when I looked at the underside of the leaf, there was a big fat aphid with a brood of babies…

Redcurrant leaf with blistering and aphids

These bugs must have come in as eggs on the plant. According to the RHS, the aphids need to move to hedge woundwort (Stachys sylvatica) plants to complete their life cycle: they’re uncommon plants around here, so this could be the end of the road for these aphids, depending how far they can travel. The damage the aphids are doing looks impressive, but is really of no consequence.

Buff tips on strawberries

Riffling through the strawberry leaves for ripe berries yesterday morning, I almost brushed what I took to be a twig off the leaves without a thought. But then I realised (I twigged…) that it wasn’t a twig it was a moth. And in fact it wasn’t one but two.

Buff tip moths on a strawberry leaf – at a glance, they look like a snapped twig


These are buff tip moths (Phalera bucephala). Their caterpillars are voracious eaters with unfussy tastes. I suppose they could be called a pest, but their camouflage is undeniably impressive and cunning. So I left them.


Leaf miner damage on lovage

The leaves of these lovage plants are being damaged by the larvae of the celery fly (Euleia heraclei).

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Leaf miner damage on lovage leaves

The celery fly itself is tiny and mainly goes unnoticed, but once the female has laid her eggs into the leaves of your celery, or lovage, or parsnips, or parsley (or quite a few other plants), you’ll certainly notice the damage they do.

The egg is inserted under the skin of the leaf and the grub lives between the two leaf faces, chomping away and destroying the leaf from the inside. This causes the characteristic scorched appearance and blistering.

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The damage is, aptly, called a blotch mine (you can almost make out the grub in this blister)

The grubs will spend two to three weeks inside the leaf, growing bigger and bigger. They will then either pupate within the leaf, or in the ground underneath the plant. A new generation of flies will emerge a few weeks later ready to start the second cycle of infestation.

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One leaf, two lesions – these are still quite fresh and there will be active grubs inside
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…and here’s the grub

The only thing you can really do, on a garden scale, if you are affected by celery flies is to pick off and destroy damaged leaves as you notice them.


Lawn shrimps

For some reason, this year there has been an absolute explosion in the number of lawn shrimps around the garden. Every time I move a stone, a log or a plant pot, there will be a crowd of lawn shrimps underneath, along with hordes of woodlice.

Lawn shrimps (also known as wood or land hoppers and scientifically known as Arcitalitrus dorrieni) look very much like sand hoppers except for that the lawn shrimps are very dark in colour. Their bodies are squashed upwards with their rear ends coiled under (like a shrimp) and they tend to list to one side when they try to walk or run. They’re about 1cm to 1.5cm long, not including their antennae and they have a very shiny, almost black appearance.

A lawn shrimp (Arcitalitrus dorrieni) also known as as land hopper or wood hopper

I have only recently discovered that lawn shrimps are relative newcomers to the UK, having arrived in the Scilly Isles in the 1920s (at least that’s when they were first documented). Since then, year by year, the lawn shrimps have been expanding their UK range. Originally, they  came from Australia.

Blackbirds and robins love to eat these little hoppers – if they notice me move something and see the hoppers, the birds will dive down to gobble them up.

Lawn shrimp – they are devilish to photograph because as soon as they’re exposed to the light they start skittering and leaping to try and find cover again

I used to think that lawn shrimps were a kind of springtail (Collembola spp), simply because they spring, not for any taxonomic reason. I’ve even been to workshops where that’s what the shrimps have been called. In fact the lawn shrimp is most closely related to the sand hoppers that it so closely resembles. Like the sandhopper the lawn shrimp feeds on decaying material. It’s not a garden pest and is unlikely to do any harm.