visiting my garden in the late afternoon, i noticed something amiss with one of my tomato plants. instead of branches, it looked like it had tendrils. it took me a while to realize that all the leaves had been stripped off from those branches. trying to figure what happened, i was looking around when i saw something that nearly made me stumbled backwards in shocking realization. before my very eyes, hanging from a defoliated tomato branch, was one of the largest caterpillars i've ever seen (the largest caterpillar i've ever was in yuanyang, china). i even knew what it was but never thought i'd see one, and in my own garden no less. it was a tobacco hornworm.
tobacco hornworms (and its close cousin the tomato hornworm) are large caterpillars of the sphinx moth family, which includes hummingbird moths. tobacco hornworms eat tobacco as well as tomatoes. hornworms can get big (4" long) and because of their large size they can quickly strip a plant. hornworms make my tomato fruitworms problem seem utterly insignificant in comparison. fruitworms just attack fruits; hornworms not only eat the fruits (green ones at least), but they all eat the leaves and stems. it's weird that i didn't see it until today; you figured something so large (it's currently about 3" long) wouldn't be able to evade detection, although i've read they only get into feeding frenzy mode when they're at their last stage of caterpillar development.
tobacco hornworms differ from tomato hornworms in that they have straight white stripes (tomato hornwoms have angled stripes) and a red "horn" on its posterior. the horn looks like a poisonous stinger but it's just for show. i've actually seen (and touched) a tobacco hornworm one other time: when i was a freshman in college, one of my biology teachers passed around a hornworm for show-and-tell. because it was a captive specimen, it wasn't green but rather turquoise in color. tobacco hornworms are the insect equivalent of lab rats for biologists specifically because they're so big - they're a lot easier to see and study.
this particular hornworm seemed to be in some sort of coma. maybe it was a defense mechanism, but its eerie stillness allowed me to take a bunch of photos. i even managed to touch it a few times while it continued to keep still. at one point when i was watering my plants, it suddenly snapped awake, chewing on a single tomato leaf, before suddenly returning to its coma again. maybe it's about to transform into a pupa; unfortunately, since it's not a butterfly, there won't be any chrysalis action; instead, it's just going to bury itself underground and become a naked brown pupa.
i was pretty conflicted: at no other time have two interests come together and be so diametrically opposed. my love of insects told me to keep the hornworm alive yet my love of gardening told me to kill the hornworm before it completely defoliates my tomatoes. so i've decided to take a wait-and-see attitude. hopefully it's eaten its fill and will now pupate and become a moth. if on the other hand i return to the garden and find a tomato plant skeleton, i will have no choice but to remove the hornworm. but for something so gross, it's actually quite beautiful: white polka dots on green skin, with bear claws for feet and spiracles in the form of false eye spots.
tomatoes from last sunday:
after my mother dropped off my aunt at the laundromat, we went to target followed by market basket. for dinner i ate half a rotisserie chicken along with some salad.