In between showers this morning (Yes, we have been getting some wonderful, cooling rain!) I stepped out on the deck to refill the hummingbird feeder. The first thing I saw was a pile of green pellets littering the deck.This particular frass belongs to a tobacco hornworm, the same one, or the relative of the one, that dashed my hopes of a decent tomato crop this year.
I planted the heirloom Opalka tomato seeds in the Earthboxes on the deck with such high hopes, and in June they definitely showed promise, as you can see here.
Then, one morning I looked out horrified. My once bountiful, leafy, fruit laden tomato plants had been defoliated! The scientific name for this particular hornworm is Manduca sexta. Manduca comes from the Latin word for glutton, a very apt description for this voracious eater! There, at the base of the plants were the telltale pellets. Hornworms are notoriously hard to see because they are masters of disguise and manage to blend right in with the leaves and stalks of the tomato plant, but there they were- chomping away. They have, over the last few years, become the bane of my tomato-growing existence. I pick them off and dispatch them- I’ll spare you the gory details, but I don’t want to come back as a hornworm for I have done some despicable things to hornworms, maybe even worse than the crimes I have committed against ants. Here are some pics of the nasty little green devils at work.
The damage was almost complete by early August. We managed to harvest a few tomatoes, but not many. Defeated once more, I left the plants there on the deck for the remaining hornworms to finish off. And finish them off they have- as evidenced by the last remaining tomato in the last frame, and the fact that the pellets are much larger than they were earlier in the summer. But I cannot find the hornworms this time. I have a feeling that they may be in the soil pupating. That process is magical, and a year or so ago we were able to witness the metamorphosis of a hornworm into a sphinx moth when I inadvertently dug up a pupa while replanting the Earthboxes. Here are some pics of what happened.The first pic is a close-up of the hornworm in the larval stage. See the horn on its tail end?
This is the pupa I dug up. I put it in a shallow dish of soil to finish the metamorphosis and hoped that it wouldn't dry out and die before making the transition.
If you'd like to see some much better pics and learn more about hornworms, here's a really nice and informative site from the University of Florida: Hornworms