Saturday, August 13, 2016

Tobacco Worm in the Tomato Patch

Another hot August day in the tomato patch... 
When the sun, in its ceaseless journey, at long last ducks behind the big longleaf out front, the tomato worm pauses to catch its breath... 
Only, it's actually a tobacco worm, and not really a "worm" at all.

 A few weeks ago, when the tomato plants were at the peak of their summer blooming, the Carolina sphinx moth strategically placed her eggs on the underside of a leaf 
shortly before her life came to an end. 
Within a few days, the feast of life began for her offspring; 
and, with each successive instar, or stage of larval development, the caterpillars molted and became increasingly voracious.

Trickster sun has cleared the crown of the pine and decided to go out in a blaze of glory, bathing the garden and all its inhabitants again in the golden glow of not-quite-dusk-just-yet!
The temperature is still well into the eighties, and the humidity feels like it's about a hundred and ten percent here in the Sandhills, with no rain in sight. 

All of which conspires to make our seemingly satiated caterpillar resume its consumption of the tomato vine. The tobacco hornworm, larvae of the Carolina Sphinx Moth, Manduca sexta, is equally content to dine on the tobacco plant or tomato plant, both of which are members of the nightshade family, Solanaceae. It is a close cousin to the tomato hornworm, larvae of the Five Spotted Hawkmoth, Manduca quinquemaculata, and both are common here in North Carolina.  

The tobacco worm is distinguished by its seven diagonal white "stripes", bordered by black, while the tomato worm has white "arrowhead" markings pointing toward the head of the caterpillar. This large tobacco worm is in its last instar, and it is consuming the plant material, leaves, stalk and fruit at an impressive rate right now. 

Tonight, or perhaps tomorrow, it will drop to the ground and pupate beneath the soil, soon to emerge as an adult sphinx moth and resume this ages-old cycle of life and death and renewal. 

Meanwhile, not far away, dragonfly is in a bit of a pickle;

but that's a story for another day...

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