Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Oh, Those Blasted Hornworms!

Why, hello there, Mr. Hornworm

OK, I'm really tired of the hornworms devouring my tomato plants.  Last year I had more hornworms in the garden than I've had in all previous years combined, I think.  Last night while looking at the garden, I found two hornworms and saw a good bit of hornworm damage (tomato limbs completely denuded of their leaves).  I always called these guys "tomato hornworms", but according to the following Wikipedia article, they're actually  "tobacco hornworms":

"The Five-Spotted Hawkmoth (Manduca quinquemaculata) is a brown and gray hawk moth of the Sphingidae family. The caterpillar is often referred to as the tomato hornworm and can be a major pest in gardens. Tomato hornworms are closely related to (and sometimes confused with) the tobacco hornworm (Manduca sexta). This confusion arises because caterpillars of both species feed on the foliage of various plants from the family Solanaceae, so either species can be found on tobacco or tomato leaves, and the plant on which the caterpillar is found does not indicate its species. The larvae of these species can be distinguished by their lateral markings; tomato hornworms have eight V-shaped markings while tobacco hornworms have seven diagonal lines.[2] Furthermore, the caterpillars can be distinguished from the larval stage onwards by the color of the horns on their back ends: M. quinquemaculata caterpillars have black horns, while Manduca sexta caterpillars have red horns. The moths can be distinguished by the number of spots on their abdomen, with M. quinquemaculata having five."

One good thing about the hornworms....my chickens love them.  Whenever I find one that's not covered in parasitic wasp larvae, it gets fed to the girls.  If I see one with the wasp larvae clinging to it, I leave it alone so the larvae can mature and continue the cycle. 

Hornworms can be very difficult to find in amongst the tomato plants (or peppers, or wherever they happen to be feeding).  I normally spot the  hornworms first that are covered with the rice-like parasitic wasp larvae, then look a bit further and discover the rest.

 Hornworm playing host to parasitic wasp larvae.  I'll leave these guys alone so the larvae can mature and produce more parasitic wasps.

 Good riddance, evil hornwom!  I found this deflated fellow on a tomato cage as I was cleaning up garden debris last autumn.

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