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The saga of the tomato hornworm
Tuesday, April 08, 2014 8:37 PM


The saga of the tomato hornworm

By Bill Sherry

Late last summer as I harvested a bumper crop of tomatoes I noticed several tomatoes and the leaves of the plant had been partially eaten. Upon closer examination, I noticed, or should I say I was startled by, several large green worms feasting on my tomato plants. I found that my moth identification book called these worms the tomato hornworm because of the large, horn-like growth at the rear of its body and noted that the tomato hornworms are a common large caterpillar that defoliates tomato plants. Their large size (3-4 inches long) and voracious appetite allows them to strip a tomato plant of foliage in a short period of time, so they frequently catch gardeners by surprise.

I took one of these monster worms to church the next Sunday. I used it for my children’s message about things God has made that we don’t often see. One young lady was fascinated with this monster worm, played with the worm and asked if she could take it home. I had brought some extra tomato leaves and we talked briefly after church about putting a couple inches of dirt in the bottom of the gallon jar and feeding the monster tomato hornworm until it didn’t want any more to eat.


The next Sunday, the young lady brought the jar back and informed me that the worm had stopped eating and that she could not see it any more. That’s because the tomato worm had borrowed under the soil and had formed a pupa. This is how the tomato hornworm pupa will remain until winter is over. I put the jar with the tomato hornworm pupa and buried in about 2 inches of garden soil in my unheated garage for the winter. This morning I was reminded that winter is almost over and something is about to happen.

I retrieved the jar from the garage this afternoon and the pupa is still buried in the garden soil inside the jar. It’s time to bring the jar out of the garage and expose it to some of the upcoming springlike weather and give the tomato hornworm a chance at changing from the ugly worm and pupal stage of life into a beautiful sphinx moth that loves to sip on the nectar of the spring flowers as it prepares to lay eggs on my tomato plants later in the summer.

In my opinion, the eggs will hatch and later in the summer I will find a some large green worms eating my tomato plants again this year.

I do hope to see you in church this Sunday; we need to talk because we have something in common.

William W. Sherry is a correspondent for the Paulding County Progress.

The opinions stated are those of the writer, and do not necessarily reflect that of the newspaper.