Time to talk about the nasties. This bugger is a vicious defoliator, mostly attacking plants in the Solanaceae (nightshade) family – tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant, peppers, and of course, tobacco. The specimen above was first assumed to be the tomato hornworm, but a master gardener from Colorado State clarified the difference between the two caterpillars. They’re the larval stage of the “hawk”, “sphinx” or hummingbird moth – begrudgingly beautiful – but can wipe out your tomato plantation in no time.
These critters added to our tomato heirloom woes (notably “blossom drop” from the very high temps) just yesterday when Roy discovered them feasting on the leaves. In the evening, he applied Bt, Bacillus thuringiensis – an effective natural pesticide against caterpillars. In less than 48 hrs, we put on our “pattern identification lenses”, and picked about 20 of these nasty buggers. Picking them off the leaves is like pulling velcro apart, and they seem to fight back by bending backwards and grabbing you with their vicious little jaws. (Actually I don’t think they bite and people will handle them with bare hands … but these critters still gross me out!)
The Bt was effective almost overnight, but we still found a half dozen or so lively, fat beasties today.
The happy ending to this story is that we get a whole lot of entertainment feeding these caterpillars to our chickens. The chooks will come to you eagerly, snatch the beasty from your hand, and fight over the gourmet meal. They were pretty subdued in the video, but you do see the Buff Orpi do an Olympic sprint well away from the competition!
A more informative video on tomato and tobacco hornworms to watch is from GardenForkTV.