“Art takes nature as its model.” – Aristotle
A few weeks ago I was doing my usual morning garden walk – checking on plants, looking for pests, and making decisions about watering – when I noticed these really cool looking beetle larvae munching on a horsenettle that was growing up between my garden beds.
I didn’t know what they were at the time, but took a photo and sent it to my friend, Steve, who promptly identified it as a False Potato Beetle (Leptinotarsa juncta).
This week, Steve’s wonderful wife, Laurie, a remarkably gifted quilter, turned that false potato beetle image into a fantastic work of art – in the form of a potholder for me!
False potato beetles really are potato beetles, so I’m not sure where the “false” part of the name came from, except perhaps to distinguish them from their more destructive relatives, the Colorado Potato Beetle (Leptinotarsa decimlineata), which I thought I had seen earlier in the summer on one of my eggplants.
Turns out, the eggs and adult beetle I had seen earlier in the season probably were the False Potato Beetle and not the Colorado beetle. The False potato beetle lays fewer eggs per leaf and the adult has a brown strip down the middle of its back and in the middle of each wing covering – as opposed to all black stripes on the Colorado potato beetle’s wing coverings – see the differences below.
While Colorado potato beetles are considered to be serious pests, the False Potato Beetle is much less likely to cause major damage to gardens and crops. Apparently part of the reason is because it likes to munch on plants other than potatoes. They like horse nettle, ground cherry, and bittersweet, as well as potatoes and other nightshades like eggplants!
The beetle larvae I found probably had emerged from eggs that were laid on the underside of that horsenettle leaf. Similar to caterpillars, the beetles go through four instars or stages of development as they grow. It takes them about 21 days to become a mature larva. Then they drop to the ground and pupate in the soil for about 10 days, emerging as adults. The adults also feed on the leaves of preferred plants, and then overwinter in the ground.
Laurie, the quilter, was so inspired by the pattern on this false potato beetle that she not only made me a potholder, but she also designed a beautiful apron for herself. Keep your eyes on nature – you never know when it will inspire you to do something creative!