LINCOLN SQUARE — Nature never ceases to amaze with its endless supply of horrific killing machines.
Common throughout North America, these humungous caterpillars — up to five (five!) inches long — feed non-stop and will destroy a tomato crop by chewing through leaves, stems and even the fruit. Oh, and they attack eggplant, pepper and potato plants too.
Midsummer is typically when damage from these voracious eaters becomes apparent. Because they blend in so well with plants, hornworms, despite their size, often go unnoticed until it's too late.
Signs of an infestation: Look for dark green or blackish droppings on leaves, leaves with large holes and wilted leaves.
Experts say the best way to get rid of these monsters, which have distinctive white stripes, is to hand pick them and drown them in a bucket of soapy water. These same experts apparently aren't deterred by the horn (horn!) sticking out of the bug's rear end.
Another alternative: Let wasps exact revenge on your behalf.
Tiny braconid wasps lay their eggs on the hornworm and eat the caterpillar from the inside out. If you spot a hornworm that looks like it's covered in rice, that's a telltale sign wasps are enjoying a feast.
To avoid this whole murderous scene in the future, till your garden soil at the beginning of the season, which gets rid of any over-wintering caterpillar larvae.
Ever encountered a tomato hornworm? This guy's reaction is all of us. [Flickr/ilovebutter]
If you spot a hornworm that looks like it's covered in rice, that's a telltale sign the caterpillar is being eaten alive. [Flickr/Kerry Wixted]