Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Cacyreus marshalli ... and company

May is the month the pests come back, and I've already had my first run-in with red spider mite. I think I won, but it's only the first battle in a war which will go on till the autumn, so I'm now checking daily and spraying regularly as a preventative measure with a mixture of onion, garlic, cloves and cayenne pepper which I found on a site called Bonsai Garden.

Other pests are also rampant and my caterpillarium now has a large number of residents chomping away. Unfortunately, I haven't always been able to move them in on time. I was in Tuscany for a couple of days last week and came back to find one of my chrysanthemums in an extremely sorry state - half eaten by voracious green caterpillars, and the other half infested by blackfly.

But the most worrying thing this year is the enormous number of geranium bronze butterfly (cacyreus marshalli) caterpillars that I've found. This is a pest that is rare so far in the UK and one that you're supposed to report officially if you see it - you can see photos and get details on the site for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. But it transferred to southern Europe from Africa some years back, and in Italy is now well established. Not surprising, as it can go through 5 or 6 generations a year. It attacks pelargoniums, and though the mature caterpillars feed on the leaves and flowers and so are easy to spot and pick off, by then the damage has been done. There's an earlier stage where the newly hatched larvae bury into the stems and tunnel down through the plant, and that's what really does the damage. So there's no way of confining this one to the caterpillarium.

Acknowledgement :
Photo of the geranium bronze butterfly provided under Creative Commons Licence by zigari44 via flickr

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