Saturday, September 4, 2010

The rosemary leaf beetle lives on herbs

Rosemary leaf beetle (Chrysolina americana)
The rosemary leaf beetle is a common beetle that lives on rosemary and other herbs. Its scientific name is Chrysolina americana. Despite its scientific name, it is a native of southern Europe. In the early 1990s it appeared in Britain and during the last decade it has become an established pest on rosemary, lavender and related plants.

It is an attractive beetle with metallic green and purple stripes down its back. . In the sunlight these stripes reflect all the colours of the rainbow - rather like oil on water. This effect is very beautiful to see but difficult to capture on camera.

It is usually found in groups on stems or feeding on the new growth of plants. The larvae are small slug-like grubs which are usually found on the underside of leaves. They are light grey with horizontal dark stripes running the length of their body.

Their favourite food plant, the rosemary is a medium-sized bush of the Mediterranean, recognised by its narrow fleshy leaves, small pale blue flowers and more than anything else by its typical aromatic smell. The bush is usually about one metre high but when hanging down from a vertical rock face it can grow up to two metres. It flowers throughout the year.

The rosemary leaf beetle, known in Maltese as żabbella tal-klin, belongs to the Chrysomelidae family, a group of beetles known as the leaf beetles. This is a family of over 35,000 species, one of the largest and most commonly-encountered of all beetle families. About 60 of these species are found in the Maltese islands. Another common member of this large family is the red leaf beetle, żabbella ħamra in Maltese, which is found in vegetation in the countryside. Adult and larval leaf beetles feed on all sorts of plant tissue. Many are economically important pests of agriculture. 

This article was published in The Times on 05.01.2010

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