Friday, September 12, 2008

Mystery caterpillar

Can anyone identify this little chap?

One of my clients asked me to have a look at some bedding she had in her front garden, which she thought had been clobbered by slugs. The odd thing was, it was mostly pelargoniums, which in my experience aren't that tasty to slugs so generally don't suffer much damage.

It was pretty clear as soon as I looked at them that this wasn't slug damage - no slime marks, and the holes were large and in the centre of the leaf - not like slugs at all, which usually attack the edges of leaves first and then if they are going to eat the centre of the leaf, they kind of scrape away a thin layer to begin with rather than eat it straight through all at once.

Anyway - it was all screaming caterpillar to me, so I hunted around for a bit and sure enough this is what I came up with. Trouble is, I have no idea what it might be - I'm not exactly an entomologist and my garden experience with caterpillars is limited to gooseberry sawfly and cabbage white butterfly caterpillars, both of which I can identify at a hundred paces and despatch accordingly.

I'm a bit concerned though that this little chap might be something interesting. I had a look on the pragmatically-named What's This Caterpillar website but despite a happy hour browsing their gorgeously illustrated plates couldn't come up with a conclusive ident - the closest I got was the unfeasibly rare Orache Moth.

Thinking it rather unlikely that we've turned up the kind of thing you send to the Natural History Museum, I sent these pics in to Wisley's advice centre to see what their bug people can come up with. But if there's anyone out there who's looking at this and thinking to themselves, "Doesn't she realise that's a pelargonium leaf-stripper?" please don't hesitate to enlighten me! Until then, we're holding off the spraying/squashing/nematode treatments in the assumption that it's innocent until proven guilty.


Karen Hall said...

I went back to a clients house this week to find all her pelargoniums eaten from the center - and I thought caterpillar - but couldn't find any so I will be interested in any responses you get.
I have never seen pelargoniums so thoroughly munched before.
An Artists Garden

The Garden Monkey said...

I'm sure VP will now - she's good on bugs

The Constant Gardener said...

VP - over to you!

(Wisley haven't got back to me yet... boo hoo... mind you they do say about three weeks or thereabouts so I'm just being a bit impatient I suppose)

Plant Mad Nige said...

Pardon me for butting in - I'm just learning how to blog and making a right hash of things so far and haven't really got to grips with the technical side.

However, I can identify your caterpillar for you. I'm pretty sure its an Angle Shades Moth, Phlogophora meticulosa. Though fairly catholic in their tastes, this species is very fond of pelargoniums. You can find more info at the RHS. Try the following link.

(Please don't laugh at my pathetic first attempt to blog. I'll get better.

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