I have been waiting anxiously for the Swallowtail caterpillars and the Monarch caterpillars to make an appearance. I have been looking every day for over a week at my Butterfly Weed and our parsley. The Monarchs eat away the Butterfly Weed and we found out last year that Swallowtails love parsley. We planted a lot of it this year.
Well, the other day, while talking to Dwayne on the phone, he mentioned that a huge caterpillar was eating away one of our ornamental peppers.
I couldn’t figure out why it wasn’t on the parsley. Then I figured out, it isn’t the Swallowtail caterpillar. It is a tobacco hornworm. And they love to defoliate tomatoes, potatoes, eggplants and, you guessed it, peppers. The article I read didn’t mention tobacco as one of it’s favorite foods, so I’m not sure where the name comes from.
The tobacco hornworm is green with seven diagonal lines on it’s sides and a curved red horn at it’s back end.
There is also the tomato hornworm which has V-shaped marks and it’s horn is more straight and a blue-black color.
Hornworms are the larvae of hawk or sphinx moths which are also known as the “hummingbird moth”. Their wings move almost as fast as a hummingbird. We saw one of these the first or second year we lived in our house and we could have sworn it was a hummingbird. I just couldn’t figure out about the antennae, though. We were new to gardening and birding, but I was pretty sure hummingbirds didn’t have antennae. And hummingbird moths can’t fly backwards.
While I love seeing the hummingbird moths, I don’t really like their larvae eating my vegetables. The moths don’t really harm any of your plants, but the caterpillars can seriously defoliate a plant and even eat some of the green fruit. I don’t want that! The recommended way to deal with the caterpillar is to pick them off and cut them in half or drop them in a bucket of water. We have moved the pot to our deck and Dwayne is thinking of steaming it this weekend with some plastic wrap. The birds can have their very own barbeque! If you happen upon one that has what looks like small white eggs on it, leave it alone. These are the cocoons of a parasitic wasp and as the wasp eats away the caterpillar, the caterpillar with die. Nature takes care of itself.
The news isn’t all disappointing. I found a Monarch caterpillar on our small fence around the butterfly weed.
Now, him I look forward to watching gorge himself on our flora offering.