Monday, August 9, 2010

A Curious Sight

While picking tomatoes in my garden,
I came upon this curious, albeit grotesque, creature.
He was hanging from the underneath side of a tomato plant.

(Of course I ran back to the house to get a macro lens....
he was worth an up-close look!)

Thinking that this might be a tomato hornworm, I did a little research....
only to find that this creature is actually a tobacco hornworm.

Although the two look very similar,
the tobacco hornworm has red horns on its rear end,

while the tomato hornworm has black horns.

Its body is divided into sections that each have an eye-like marking.


It is curious, though, that the tomato hornworm 
is most common here in the North,
and the tobacco hornworm in the South.

The tobacco hornworm is the caterpillar of the sphynx moth.

What I found most striking about this large caterpillar
were the white egg-like structures attached to its body.

These are cocoons containing the pupae of the braconid wasp.
These pupae mature and digest the body of the hornworm.
Once fully mature, the braconid wasp will spend its time
hunting and eating the hornworms.

So, although rather macabre in their parasitic ways,
these cocoons are quite beneficial to our gardens.

Always looking for organic ways to deal with pests, I
found that planting marigolds around your vegetables will
greatly reduce the amount of hornworms you have.

Next year I will most certainly plant marigolds in my tomato boxes.

9 comments:

  1. We've had hornworms in our garden before (huge and ugly) but I've never seen one covered with all those tiny cocoons before. Since there were beneficial wasps growing in those cocoons, did you let the hornworm live?

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  2. Yuck! I found one of these on a tomato plant last week. I always thought they were called Tomoato worms. Eeven my chickens were afraid of it!

    Jill

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  3. Wow... really gross.. but I loved looking at it and learning about it. Thanks, Dawn

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  4. always learn so much from your blog..hopefully I won't need to ever use todays info...cute little bugger..looks like a little sheep in a childs book..sorta

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  5. Wow! How unusual. I have never seen one of these before.

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  6. What great photos! I've read about these wasps before, but I've never seen them.

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  7. We've had those kinds of hornworms before, but never with the larvae! You're so lucky to get to see something like that! I've only ever seen it in books.

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  8. Wow, that is a really amazing story. Great post, and oh, the pictures!!! I was so surprised the hear about the parasite!

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  9. Very interesting! Gross, but interesting.

    Smiles,
    Lisa

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