Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Alien in the garden

The other day, the male of the cardinal pair that hangs in our garden was making his distinctive high-pitched, single-note call, so I checked to see what was going on. He's usually a ground-foraging type, so I was surprised--and, frankly, a little disappointed--to find him perched in my tomato plants, pecking like crazy.

And then I realized he wasn't aiming for the fruit, but for a big green leaf.

And the leaf was fighting back.

Turns out it wasn't a leaf after all, but rather a long, fat and rather obscene caterpillar, which was in the middle of chewing its way through the plant and was apparently rather upset at having lunch interrupted.

I grabbed two important tools--trowel, camera--and went to give the cardinal a hand.

Man, but that was an ugly bug. About as long as my index finger and as fat as my thumb, with a disturbingly long stingery-spiky thing on one end, it kept on resolutely devouring leaves even as I tried to dislodge it from the plant. I could almost see tiny biceps wrapped around the branch. I could most definitely hear the crisp, repetitive crunching noise of leaves--my leaves, dammit!--being chewed.

Finally I managed to knock it onto the garden path, and grabbed my camera. A Kodak moment.

And then I flicked it toward the cardinal (who had been waiting patiently on the fence throughout, observing and occasionally chirping what I imagine to be "Yeah, go on! Kick its butt!") and went back inside. From the window I watched as the bird danced around the worm, ducking in for a peck and then dodging back to avoid the stingery end, until his opponent was too far gone to fight back. (At one point, the cardinal stopped to wipe worm gunk off his beak on the side of a stone. It was a pretty gross bug, after all.)

When I checked back later, both bird and bug were gone.

But what the heck was it? And if it was a caterpillar, what would it morph into? A pterodactyl?

Google searches for "caterpillar" pulled up pictures of cute furry characters destined to become monarchs and swallowtails, plus the fabulously cartoony
spicebush caterpillar, but nothing resembling the monster in my garden.

And then I searched on "green worm eat tomato leaves" (because search engines like it when you talk like a caveman). And there he was.

My nemesis. The
tomato hornworm.

So far, he appears to have been the sole invader, but I keep checking for signs of further attack. And if the cardinal can't handle them,
maybe there's another way ...



Blogger Ashley said...

i grew up working in the garden with Mum, dropping hornworms into tuna cans of mineral spirits. Mum just picked them off with her bare fingers, I used anything at least 7' in length to maneuver those little bastards into the can. gaaaw!

7:15 PM  
Blogger LimeyG said...

And all this time, you coulda been frying them up for a snack ...

10:24 AM  

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