They hunt down and consume impressive numbers of insect prey and their eggs, especially pest caterpillars such as cabbageworms, tomato hornworms
, tent caterpillars, and com earworms.
They can feed you too--directly, with eggs and meat, or indirectly, with manure for the soil and their charming, heart-warming desire to peck bloody fights over the privilege of chowing down on that inch-thick tomato hornworm
that decimated your prize Brandywine.
If you discover a tomato hornworm
feeding on your plants, pick and destroy it, unless white grains of rice are on its back, as they are the eggs of a parasitic wasp.
The two types of hornworms are both the larvae of sphinx moths: the tomato hornworm
has a black and green horn on its rear; the tobacco hornworm has a red horn.
However, the amount of feeding done by the cabbage looper and cabbageworm, cankerworms, corn earworms and the European Corn borer, cutworms and the granddaddy of caterpillars, the tomato hornworm
, which can grow up to 5 inches long, is extensive.
We can divide them into those that feed alone, such as the tomato hornworm
, and gregarious insects that feed with thousands of their brethren, such as aphids.
Fortunately, only one insect, the tomato hornworm
, challenges our ownership of the plants.
We can divide them into the solitary insects that feed alone, such as tomato hornworm
, or the gregarious insects that feed together in the company of hundreds of their brethren, such as bean beetles, or those that cluster together by the thousands (aphids) or hundreds of thousands (spider mites).
For example, the tomato hornworm
feeding is usually restricted to tomato leaves.
In areas to be planted with peas, potatoes, salad greens and other early spring crops, cultivate the soil, dig in some compost, and allow birds to peck through the soil to collect cutworms, tomato hornworm
pupae and other insects for a week or two.
One day last July, my sister was looking closely at our tomato plants and noticed a great deal of damage due to the large, green larvae of the tomato hornworm
moth, which lays its eggs during the wee hours of the night.
Finding a tomato hornworm
is akin to finding Waldo in a "Where's Waldo" picture.
For example, I can walk down a row of tomatoes now and spot tomato hornworm
damage at a glance.
Tiny parasitic wasps drawn to the flowers' nectar will stay around to raise their families, helping control assorted garden pests such as cabbage worms, tomato hornworms
, aphids and whiteflies.
For example, to repel tomato hornworms
, marigolds and basil are planted with tomato plants.