Saturday, June 14, 2008

Beautiful Pests, Part II

Please remember to click on the picture above, so you can see these pests up close and personal.  They are beautiful.  They also make me glad that deer don't eat at the rate they do, or we'd all be living in a desert.  Behold the Manduca quinquemaculata, aka Tomato Hornworm. I'm not really snooty enough to know the latin name of the little monsters, it's just that Google and I are BFF. :)  My kids taught me that BFF means, "Best Friends Forever".  I'm hoping that it doesn't mean Big Fussy Fathead or something.  Somebody tell me if it does.  I digress--as usual.

These are the the larval stage of another beautiful creature that is not a pest, but impossible to photograph. I've tried in vain many, many times!  Below is a picture from the wonderful world of Google.  It is a beautiful moth that belongs to a group of moths that are often mistaken for a Hummingbird---they are rather large, have 4 wings that blend together to look like two large ones and hover like hummingbirds. Betcha can't figure out what it's called the Five-Spotted Hawk Moth?
>Five-Spotted Hawk Moth - Manduca quinquemaculata

If you are a gardener you might not really care what they turn into.  These little creatures can defoliate a tomato plant overnight.  They are in the larval stage from 28-36 days.  That's a lot of days to be munching away on my two little tomato plants.  They are also amazing at camouflage.  I never see them until half a branch is gone or until I see their frass (fancy word for caterpillar poo---too many biology classes).  I will pick them off the branches; certain I have them all, only to discover the next morning that another branch is missing half it's leaves.  The very first time I saw a full grown caterpillar of this sort, I couldn't believe it.  I was sure my garden had been exposed to radiation or something from outer space.  They can get to be 5 inches long and as big around as your thumb.  In other words, ginormous!

They only have one natural enemy at this stage, the Brachonid Wasp.  A tiny little winged wonder, that will lay her eggs under the skin of the caterpillar.  At this point, things turn quickly to the stuff of horror movies.  After the eggs hatch, the little wasp grubs feast on live caterpillar, break back through the skin and weave themselves little white cocoons you see on this caterpillar. At that point, the caterpillar isn't feeling well.  It will not turn into a Five-Spotted Hawk moth. It gets to go straight to caterpillar heaven where it becomes a moth anyway.  It just eats God's tomatoes and not mine.
Despite my lack of love for the little munchers, I think that's a horrible way to go. I'm often a 'live and let live' kind of girl in the garden, but in this case, I can't share my tomatoes.  I don't have enough. I do what any critter lovin' person should do---I put them quickly out of their misery---I feed them to the chickens.  The End


  1. They are interesting critters, but I agree with your method of disposal... though mine would probably go to the peafowl! :)

  2. Wow! Amazing photos! And I bet your chickens love you for your generosity, too!

    My sons like to say that BFF stands for Big Fat Fart!


  3. Now wait just a minute there. Last year I asked you why in the world MY chickens refused to eat the fat juicy tomato horn worms I'd picked off my plants and your response was exactly, "Have you ever tasted the leaves of tomato plants? They're nasty. And that's all a THW eats so they must taste pretty awful." C, please don't destroy my faith in your knowledge of all things chicken.

  4. JuJu, I only have a few explanations---all of which are purely speculation.
    1. The chickens aren't mine. The two that gobbled up the hornworms are the two that I'm babysitting for the summer.
    2. Those same chickens are just babies--not yet a year old. They'll eat anything that won't move.
    3. Maybe because the hornworms aren't very large yet, they don't taste so bad?

    I'm guessing chicken tastes vary?? When the leaf roller caterpillars were devouring my oak trees a few years ago, my chickens could have cared less. Other folks told me they had such fun watching their chicken leap in the air trying to grab the nasty cats while they hung from the trees.