The signs were there. I knew I had a hornworm on one of my tomato plants. Bare branches, nibbled tomatoes, and caterpillar frass (waste) were the giveaways. The hornworm starts at the top of the plant stripping leaves and scaring small tomatoes. It can be a dreaded pest in the vegetable garden defoliating tomato plants and other plants like potatoes and peppers.
They are fairly inactive during the daylight hours so I just followed branches until I came upon it resting in the shadows of the plant.
But oh…. I saw other movement. This tobacco hornworm has company. There are siblings. Gosh, I’ve never had triplets before.
The tobacco hornworm (Manduca sexta) is identified by the red curved ‘horn,’ the soft red protrusion you can see at the tail end of the body. It also has 7 white stripes along the body. There’s a tomato hornworm with a dark ‘horn’ and white v-markings along the body.
So what am I going to do? Nothing. It’s fall. I have no tomatoes turning red. This plant is my smaller one with smaller green tomatoes. I’ll do nothing to harm the caterpillars because I admire the very last stage of development.
If you have seen the magnificent adult stage of the Manduca sexta, a large moth, darting in and out of garden blooms, you can’t help but be impressed. Its wingspan is almost 5″ and it is quite agile. It hovers over flowers and can easily be mistaken for a hummingbird. I call it a hawk moth but it’s known elsewhere as a Carolina sphinx moth and other terms.
Yep, the tomato season is over for me so I willingly offer this one plant to the caterpillars. They can be destructive but as pollinators and a food source for other organisms, they have an ecological role in nature.