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Gooseberry Plant Insects

Gooseberry Plant InsectsThe caterpillars of the Magpie Moth sometimes do a great deal of mischief, both in gardens, and in fruit-farms, by stripping the Currant and Gooseberry leafage.

The Magpie Moth is widely distributed, and the caterpillars are injurious, and, besides the leafage of Black, Red, and White Currants, and also of Gooseberries, which they habitually feed on, they are sometimes found on that of Apricots and Plums, and especially frequent Sloe or Blackthorn hedges.

The egg - one or more - is laid on the leaves during summer, and the caterpillars appear towards August or September, and feed for a while. Before winter they secure themselves either by spinning themselves up in leaves, which hang by spun threads from the boughs, or by dropping with the leaves and sheltering themselves at the surface of the ground. Next spring the caterpillars come out again and feed on the new leaftibe, till towards May or the beginning of June they spin a light cocoon, in which they turn to chrysalids, from which the moth comes out towards the middle of the summer.

The caterpillar is one of the kind known as "loopers," from the peculiar looped shape it assumes in walking ; the head is black; body cream-coloured, with a reddish orange stripe along the sides, and large irregular black spots along the back; the whole of the second ring, and the under side of the third and fourth, and of the four nearest the tail, are also reddish orange. The very gay colouring distinguishes it plainly from the greenish or green and black-spotted caterpillar of the Gooseberry Sawfly, which is still more common and destructive, and as the Magpie caterpillar has only two pairs of sucker-feet (in addition to the three pairs of claw feet near the head), being therefore obliged to raise itself into an upright loop when walking is another distinction.

When full fed it spins a light transparent cocoon attached to twigs, or palings, or in crevices of walls ; and in this it changes to a chrysalis, yellow at first, but afterwards shining black, with orange-coloured rings, from which the moth comes out about midsummer or rather later.

The moth is very variable in its colouring, but when regular in its marking is easily known. Commonly it has a black head, yellow body between the wings, with a large black spot in the middle ; the abdomen also yellow, with five rows of black spots. The wings are white, spotted with black, and the fore wings have a yellow blotch at the base and a yellow band across them. There are, however, almost endless varieties of markings, from black of different shades, to white; some have the upper half of the wing white and the lower black, or the reverse; some have the ground colour of the wing (instead of merely a band) yellow; and in some cases the hinder wings are striped with black.

The best method of preventing attack from these caterpillars in the spring is to destroy them whilst they are torpid during the winter. There is a difference of opinion as to whether the caterpillars winter beneath the fallen leaves on the ground or each in its folded leaf-cradle hung from the bough. However this may be, they may easily be got rid of by gathering the fallen leaves together from under the bushes, scraping up just a film of the surface-soil with them (so as to ensure none of the grubs being left behind), and at the same time casting a glance over the bush and picking off any hanging leaves that may be seen.

The habit of the caterpillar of wintering on or under the food-bush is the one to be acted upon to get rid of it thoroughly, but very early autumn pruning and dressing of the ground beneath the bushes should be avoided. I have had notes from two localities where this was customary of caterpillarĀ­attack being bad, and the reason seems obvious. If the caterpillars have either not become thoroughly torpid, or the weather is still open enough for them to reestablish themselves in shelters, many will escape by creeping away or sheltering in the disturbed surface, which otherwise would have been destroyed by winter operations.

If the bushes are properly pruned and all hanging leaves cleared, and likewise the surface-soil with the fallen leaves upon it scraped off, and either carried quite away or so treated that the caterpillars in it will be destroyed, the plan will answer as well to check repetition of the attack next spring as it does with that of Gooseberry Sawfly caterpillar. The pests being absolutely cleared out from under the bushes, there is nothing to come up in any stage of life.

Thorough cultivation is a good preventive for this attack; where the bushes are properly pruned, and consequently carefully examined during the winter, there can be very little harbourage left on the boughs for the caterpillar; and a good forking beneath the bushes, with an addition of manure, especially of the rich sorts applied in Gooseberry-growing districts, cannot fail to much diminish the number of caterpillars sheltered on the ground. A ring of ashes sprinkled with any cheap sticky mixture, put towards March or April round each Gooseberry stem (at a few inches from it), would keep any caterpillars from being able to crawl up it.