It is Large and Green
“What is that?!!! There is something large and green on the tomato plant!” My daughter was in shock when I arrived to see that it was what I suspected… A Hornworm! There was not just one but several by the time we were done searching because if there is one there is a colony. For the rest of the summer the search for these very large and interesting creatures became a sport in the hopes that she or one of her friends would find one of these slow moving terrifying monsters. The word was out!
The tomato hornworm is a non-beneficial insect in the garden. It can be very destructive to a beautiful tomato plant in a matter of hours. It is cleverly camouflaged which is why the discovery is so shocking. They have a life cycle that starts with eggs that are laid on the leaves of the plant. Keep in mind, if you buy a tomato or pepper plant at the greenhouse it may have the eggs already on it. So, now you have brought it home. After that it goes thru 5 stages of larva growing from a small worm to a large and green caterpillar. The scary one! It is at this point you can take measures to get rid of them while they are on the plant. Picking them off by hand and throwing them in soapy water or just stepping on them will end the scary. If they are left on the leaf they will eventually go beneath the soil and become a pupa where it will than emerge as a moth and then start all over again. When you pull the tomato plant, tilling the soil where the plant was will help you discover the pupa to which you can dispose of before it emerges as a moth. As long as you catch them early it will have no effect on the plant or the fruit of the plant.
Sometimes you will discover one with a lot of white circular cocoons coming out all over it. This, believe me, can be far scarier than the large and green! This is the one you do not want to dispose of because the white cocoons are wasps that will eventually kill the hornworm. Letting the wasps hatch will allow the wasps to eradicate other hornworms from the garden. This wasp is the small braconid wasp and they feed on the hornworm from the inside out. Wasps, in general, are beneficial to the garden because they target beetles and caterpillars.
There are many signs that will indicate you have hornworms. The main one of course is plant and fruit damage. Another is the discovery of grenade like droppings that will make you look desperately for what on earth did that! It will take some detective work but the discovery is worth it. They are fascinating creatures! No worries they do not bite or sting! However, if you shake the plant they will make a clicking noise that in turn will help you locate it. Oddly enough this clicking noise is their defense mechanism.
Earlier I mentioned natural ways of disposing of them. I must clarify that these worms do become a moth. This moth is the Sphinx moth which looks and acts like a small hummingbird. Yes! I have made the mistake before thinking it was a hummingbird as well! I had no idea the large and scary became such a moth. They are not as pretty as hummingbirds but they do have distinct markings like a butterfly. These moths are beneficial for pollinating flowers and as I have heard a primary pollinator of the Agave plant which is the base ingredient in tequila. So, it is up to you to decide: tomatoes or tequila? Completely your call!
We must all wage an intense, lifelong battle against the constant downward pull. If we relax, the bugs and weeds of negativity will move into the garden and take away everything of value.