Saturday, January 4, 2014

Cape Gooseberry under attack by herbivorous faeces!

What resembles a hunchback when curled up, throws up when disturbed, covers itself in its own faeces and eats leaves?

Faeces chomping my gooseberry leaf
A close up of  the dastardly herbivorous faeces.
This morning, after a glorious few days break exploring my inner feminine at the Space of Love, and then exploring my overt masculine at the Annual Hermanus Camp, I returned to my garden under an(other) attack. The leaves and branches were speckled in squishy wet faeces that were evidently snacking on the leaves of my gooseberry plants. They had eaten a considerable portion of the leaves of the Cape Gooseberry (Physalis peruviana) bushes. Closer inspection revealed that beneath these faeces were larvae of Lema trilinea. With their tiny legs and massive bodies, these wouldn't look out of place guiding an alien craft through the cosmos. So perhaps the answer to the above conundrum, as suggested by my digsmate, is poo-worms?

A young worm with barely any faeces covering it.
The Cape Gooseberry is not from the Cape, but western South America. Rather, they are named from the cape/cloak that covers their blessed edible fruiting bodies. They are densely covered in hairs which due to their density, likely serve as formidable protection against microherbivores. However, once nibbled upon, the plant appears to activate a secondary defense. In harvesting the worms to incubate them, I found that leaves that were being nibbled on were much easier to remove than intact leaves. it would appear that the plant ejects its leaves to jettison its unwelcome guests. An expensive but possibly effective strategy for barely mobile pests.

The worms on the other hand have an unusual defense. From a very young age, they start accumulating faeces on their backs. These continue to pile up until the worm below is no longer visible. I've heard of organisms camouflaging themselves as turds, but to actually strap your toilet onto your back - that's an entirely different and gutsy defense! Talking of guts, their secondary defense is to puke when disturbed - just in case you weren't put off by their faecal shield.

If I could come up with an adage about my organic garden it would be this: For every food plant that thrives, it will, at some time, support an equally prolific pest that ensures that it doesn't.

I previously wrote about my strawberry plants being set upon by a veritable menagerie of pets pests including my dogs. The gooseberries, notwithstanding aphids, have thus far been my sole salvation. But no longer!
My solargooseberry plant with aphids aggregating within the cape.

What are these beasties that challenge my gooseberries as a crop, and further erode my ego as a gardener? Lema trilinea. I've never encountered them before. Here are scans of them.I would welcome identifications and information about them.

A worm resembling a hunchback from the side.

A Lema trilinea worm from below. The coloured legs are an artefact of the worm wiggling while being scanned.
Leaves showing considerable damage, and a recently hatched nesting site (RHS).

Close up of the hatching site.

In the centre-left, a clump of eggs can just be made out.

Close up of these eggs
A gooseberry with the cape having been devoured by the worms.
For more information about gooseberries including distribution and other common names, see Biodiversity International's New World Fruit Database. For their nutritional information see:


  1. Greetings Looks like the larva of the three-lined or striped potato beetle. The worst is the damage from the false codling moth. Yes aphids and bulbuls and mouse birds and dogs.........

    1. Spot on Algernon! That looks like the kind of beetle I've been mercilessly crushing. And of course Physalis is Solanaceae - that of the potato family. Thanks!