Monster caterpillar attacks Maywood

Tobacco hornworm caterpillar

Last week we had enormous mutant mushrooms growing in the yard.  Last night I came home to the biggest caterpillar I have ever seen in my life.  I’m used to seeing bugs and critters, but this thing is creeping me out.  Harper and John discovered it on a  volunteer tomato plant in the yard, where it was voraciously devouring the green tomatoes.  (The plant, being a volunteer, was a late bloomer.  Lucky for this caterpillar, who happens to eat only the green ones.)

The guys cut off the stalk of tomato plant, “creatively arranged” it in a jar, and set it for display on the porch table where it is happily tasting every single tomato on the vine as well as devouring the leaves and stalk.  And then it poops all over the table.  Being a very large and very hungry caterpillar, there are very many large caterpillar droppings.  If you’ve ever had a bunny rabbit, well, you ain’t seen nothin’.  This critter can really poop.  In fact, every website that has mentioned this critter comments on the poop.  I’m going to have to take a firehose to the porch.

So what is it?  It’s a tobacco hornworm caterpillar.  Wait, we don’t grow tobacco.  Doesn’t matter.  It eats tomatoes, green tomatoes.  And the tomato hornworm eats tobacco.  Go figure.  It is a voracious eater and can clearly destroy a tomato garden.  Marigolds are supposed to be a natural repellant but this hornworm was on a plant growing right next to my barrier of marigolds running along the garden.  I don’t blame the marigolds.  They have been doing a great job keeping the bunnies out.  Some people with a hornworm invasion plant sacrificial tomato plants to distract the caterpillars.  Others pick them off and give them to little boys to conduct nature “experiments.”  Hmm…there’s an idea.

A caterpillar this big…the size of John’s index finger…gets me to wondering what on earth it will turn into.  I’m envisioning a giant moth that will carry my grandboys off to another planet where they have all sorts of adventures in search of friendly butterflies to transport them back to their mommies.  Ok, maybe that’s a little extreme, but I’m brainstorming for the next bedtime story with Harper. (He likes scarey stories.  I like happy endings.)

Reality is cool enough.  The tobacco hornworm turns into a five-spotted hawk-moth.  A hawk-moth is a type of hummingbird moth.  We see hummingbird moths around here in the summer.   The fastest flying insect, they hover at flowers like a hummingbird and are often mistaken for hummingbirds.  They are fascinating and we enjoy finding them.

So now I’m torn.  I don’t want my garden devoured.  But I do like hummingbird moths.  I’m not too concerned for this year though.  Those  green tomatoes were never going to ripen where they were growing anyway.  And this caterpillar is most unlikely to survive any nature experiments.

Unidentified mutant mushroom

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