Tuesday, August 17, 2010


So I go out to our vegetable garden the other day and notice, to my horror, two tomato plants are half eaten. By what? I wonder. Upon studying them I discovered these humongous green caterpillars chowing down on the leaves and nibble marks on the fruit. Even though the things are 4" long and about the circumference of a Sharpie permanent marker, they have pretty perfect camouflage. Duplicate color extract as the plant. I plucked five off and threw them way over the fence. Didn't want to kill them. Stupid. Soft hearted.

Then I got on the internet and looked them up. Tobacco Hornworms they are. In the North they're called Tomato Hornworms and have a slightly different coloration. Down South, however, they have the former name. They eat tobacco, and any member of the Nightshade family. Like Irish potatoes, peppers and eggplant. And of course tomatoes. They become Sphinx moths. One of the larger species of flutterers.

Next day went to check again. Five more. I tossed all but one over the fence giving the last two a good talking to. "This is it!" I said. "Last chance. Come back again and I'm cutting you in half. So Beware!" The last one I took and put in my trusty bug jail. I thought it would be fun (well interesting at least) to watch his transformation. Of course then I was FEEDING him my tomato leaves. (I must be nuts. Don't answer that.) And he had an insatiable appetite. But I found him quite enchanting. The most amazing shade of green and with fabulous eye spots all along his sides leading right up to his eyes themselves which were almost indistinguishable from the false ones. And the brownish red horn on his rear end. Really quite fetching.

After a couple of days I realized I couldn't just keep him in a tiny bug jail. So I went down to the root cellar and brought up the aquarium I bought at a tag sale a zillion years ago which I've hauled through every move. The only thing I ever had in it was a bunch of what I thought were frog eggs. Turned out to be salamanders. Half of them cannibalized each other because there were too many in the tank, I guess. Which was rather alarming, to say the least. Once I realized what was happening I put the majority back in the pond from whence they'd come. Only kept a couple. One of which had a leg missing. I figured I owed him. And several weeks later I was surprised to see that the leg had grown back. Pretty neat. Wish we could regenerate body parts like that. I knew spiders could do that in the molting process, but didn't realize efts could too.

Anyway, back to Mr. Hornworm. My research told me that he would go into a "wandering" stage and begin to shrink. (Sort of like where I am at this age - mind wanders and I get closer to the ground every year. Only my next stage isn't as glorious a transformation to a wing-ed thing. Well, who knows - maybe it will be. One can hope, eh?)

Sure enough the other day he stopped his gluttonous consumption and began to crawl aimlessly around the tank like an Alzheimer patient. I then went and got a small bucketful of the forest floor (dried grass and leaves and such), dumped it in and he immediately buried himself under it. And every day after that I uncovered him to see what was what. And indeed he got smaller and small and less bright, duller and duller in color. Until now where he is the color of a dark brown tightly rolled leaf about an inch and a half long. His horn looks longer and is partially curled around his body instead of standing flaglike on the end of his rear. He's extremely active if you disturb him, wiggling like mad. Much more so than is original self which was rather torpid in nature.

I'm assuming they don't need to eat nor drink in this stage. Otherwise I will have nurtured this creature to his slow death.

Birth of a Sphinx Month coming soon to a theatre near you....


Dan said...

I completely fascinated by this post. Utterly amazing. I have seen these before -- in fact I had one on my tomato plant the other day. They are so big it's startling at first. I NEVER would think to watch it change. But glad you are and glad you are sharing it. Sooo cool! I can't wait to see what happens next! Hope you and the Mister are doing great! Miss ya!

Giulia said...

I'm sure you're one of the few who ARE fascinated. Bugs aren't most people's cups of tea. They ARE huge. Found a rather small one yesterday that had white barbs on it's back. Which is a good thing, actually. They are the offspring of a parasitic wasp that injects it's eggs into the poor creature and they live off it. And their birth will help prevent further hornworms from being born to destroy your tomatoes. So if you ever see one with little white cotton balls on it's back - let it be. I mean hornworms are enchanting - to a point!

Greener Pastures--A City Girl Goes Country said...

That behavior sounds like a true city girl to me! lol

How you liking the stink bugs? Do not, I repeat, do not try to save a stink bug!

Giulia said...

City Girl, huh? Them's fighten' words! The reason I DON'T live in the city is because I LIKE bugs. HA! I can remember my best friend calling me a city slicker in our youth. Wanted to beat her up but good. So I say to you: "takes one to know one." lol

Greener Pastures--A City Girl Goes Country said...

Ha ha, I know Giulia. I also like bugs. But not stinkbugs, ladybugs, and what Kurt calls the rare king bee--as large as a man's big toe. Actually, coincidentally, I recently wrote another story about bugs. It's called something like "Bad Bugs and My Favorite Bug." I'll probably put it on the blog soon.