Imagine my surprise when I found this creature in my garden today. It is ½ inch in diameter and 3.5 inches in length.
The head is to the right and the “tail” end to the left with the reddish projection. This is the Tobacco Hornworm caterpillar which feeds on tobacco but also loves tomato, eggplant, and pepper. It is a type of Sphinx Moth and closely related to and easily confused with the Tomato Hornworm which feeds on the same plants.
The damage it does is clear.
The Moth is sometimes called the “Hummingbird Moth” since it is seen hovering over the host plant with quick wingbeats. (Photo credit: The Web, Noah Project).
The Moth lays its eggs on the host plant, in this case my tomato leaves, and within 2-3 days the eggs hatch into tiny caterpillars.
As the caterpillar grows feeding on my delicious plants, it becomes too big for its outer layer and every 3-5 days, it sheds. It does this 5 times getting bigger each time. These stages are called “instars”. After the 5th instar, it forms the “pupa” and incubates from 2 weeks to over-wintering in cold areas. The Moth emerges from the pupa and the cycle starts again.
I decided to remove the Tobacco Hornworm caterpillar from my plot and transplanted it to a bush outside the garden. My hope is that nesting birds will feed it to their hungry babies! Call it supporting nature’s way but not in my garden plot.
Nancy, in the Friendship Evergreen Community Garden, Tempe, AZ.