This section is from "The Horticulturist, And Journal Of Rural Art And Rural Taste", by P. Barry, A. J. Downing, J. Jay Smith, Peter B. Mead, F. W. Woodward, Henry T. Williams. Also available from Amazon: Horticulturist and Journal of Rural Art and Rural Taste.
I send a neat print of the Basket-Worm, alias Drop-Worm, and Sack-bearer, from the german "Sacktrager," which Hiibner named Canephora or Basket-Carrier. And the Rev. L. Guilding named it Oiketicus, which Dr. Harris says should be written Oeceticus as it implies "a solitary inmate of ones own house".
Like all rogues, by whatever name known, it is none the less mischievous, and demands a watchful eye, to which I can testify, having during the summers '55 and '56 destroyed a vigorous Arbor vitae, which ornamented the front yard of my late residence in Mount Joy.
The genera Oiketicus and Psyche are remarkable for the habit which their larvae have of constructing for themselves portable cases of bits of grass, sticks or leaves, in which they reside, and undergo their transformations.
In this respect these insects represent the Phryganeidae; indeed Mr. Newman does not hesitate to assert, that they ought to be removed from the present order. The females being wingless, never leave their cases, and.according to the observations made by Ochsenheimer and Ingpen, it would seem that these females produce fertile eggs without fecundation.
My highly esteemed friend, S. S. Rath von, Esq., of Lancaster city, who is one of our most thorough entomologists, has observed this insect since 1850, and wrote out several interesting accounts which were published in the April and September numbers of the Farm Journal for 1854, and named it the Oiketicus Penmylvanicw; whether distinct from the species named by Harris, Oiketicus cotiiferum, I will not attempt to decide. Yet I confess, that I could discover no difference between the larvae inclosed within cases formed of the leaves of Pines, arbor vitae, apple, quince, etc, of which I have various illustrations in my collections.
The Basket Worm.
Mr. Rathvon states, truly, that "when the young 'Drop-Worm' is first excluded from the egg (May 24 and 26) it is about one sixteenth of an inch long; the head and three anterior segments, and also the pectoral or proper legs, are of a dark, glossy chestnut brown or nearly black color, the remaining portion of the body is a little lighter or rather a tawney. They descend by a fine silken cable, in rapid but regular successive order, from the lower end of the suspended folicle of the previous season, and light upon the branches and foliage immediately beneath, unless they should be blown to one side or the other by the wind; and are very active, using only the front or pectoral legs in locomoting and carrying the abdominal portion of the body erect. Immediately, or in a very brief period, after exclusion, they commence forming a cylindrical covering for the body out of silken tissue, coating it externally with small particles of whatever substance they may come in contact. These coverings in a day or two assume a truncated cone shape, are carried erect, having both ends open (through the the upper one of which the excrement is ejected) and may be found distributed along the smaller branches, or upon the upper surface of the leaves of trees; at which time they appear like minute deadened leaf-buds, naturally belonging to the tree, but on a closer examination it will be found they have gnawed away a small portion of their epidermis, which has been added as an outer covering to their habitations, perfectly disguising them, but at the same time leaving a trail of the inner bark exposed to view".
The above is verbatim from Mr. Rathvon's description, I shall take extracts only of a few prominent points from the remainder of his able article in my own language.
During the month of June and July they are very destructive to foliage, when their habitations assume a pendant position. From the first till the end of August the larvae are engaged in securing their sack-like habitations, preparatory to undergoing their transformations. The female with instinctive foresight is careful to fasten her habitation to a healthy living branch-let, securing the upper end, and carefully guarding against the wind and weather of the approaching winter season, undergoing the change from the larva to the chrysalis state in about thirty-six hours. Never leaving her domicil until ready to perish, after having well stored the same with the eggs for her future brood, even sometimes she dies in her feeble attempt to escape, clogging up with her attenuated body, the opening through which her progeny escapes.
The male pupa is readily distinguished from the female, being rather smaller, and exhibits the wings, legs, etc, distinctly. And is less considerate in the care he takes of his residence, attaching it to any convenient object, having no use for it after once developed into a small mole-colored moth, which takes place about the end of September.
When on the wing he seeks the secluded female, so modestly retired, introduces himself to her, posteriorly, elongating his retractile abdomen, and as friend Rathvon says "he has only to pat her amatively and cozily on the back, and say, in effect," be "fruitful and multiply" and it suffices.
To one not acquainted with these insects, the male and female in their perfect state would seem as belonging to different orders of creatures. The name drop-worm is very appropriate, as they drop in quick succession from the suspended folicles and when changing from branch to branch, in their work of destruction, both for food and building material, making sad havoc of the foliage.
The most certain mode for destroying them, is to pick them or the folicles off by hand, and committing them to the flames. Mr. Rathvon says he has observed two species of Flymenoptera that destroy the larva of Oiketicus. I witnessed a very interesting fact; a large species of the Ichneumons, lit on one of the tough bristly folicles, and commenced pinching it with its long jaws, irritating the ensconced larva, till it menacingly thrust out the upper portion of its body, when the wily fly gave the larva a dab with its ovipositor, and no doubt lodged an egg, before the silly creature could again withdraw into its domicil.