Tomato hornworm. Yuck. If you grow tomatoes, you undoubtedly recognize this Big Green Monster, which can grow to be the size of your index finger, if you don't put an end to him before then. One season, I pulled a gross (in both meanings of that word) of these critters off my tomatoes.
They weren't as bad this year, but I stlll found a dozen or so--and squashed every one I found. I have a live-and-let-live disposition, but not where hornworms are concerned. They adore nightshades, and if you don't stop them in their tracks, their next targets of opportunity will be your peppers, potatoes, and eggplants. (If you're growing tobacco--we'll assume you're not--they'll go there, too.) Because they're green, they're hard to spot, but I've read that they glow under ultraviolet light (showoffs!). So if you have a black light, you might give it a try.
Please note: if the caterpillar has what looks like grains of white rice all over him, don't squash. He's being parasitized by a helpful wasp (helpful to you, that is). More wasps, fewer hornworm caterpillars.
If you can't bring yourself to squash, you can spray with Bt. Personally, I prefer to squish. It satisfies the soul
Of course, the Big Green Monster is only one stage in the maturation of this creature. You may also recognize his momma: the five-spotted hawkmoth.
If you're in the garden after dark, you may have seen this one: she's nocturnal--and about the size of a hummingbird.She has a long tongue, so she's helpful when it comes to pollinating tubular flowers. And because she works the night shift, she pollinates plants that bloom at night. Your moonflower, for instance, or your neighbor's datura.
But this hawkmoth has a dark side, because she prefers to lay her eggs on the underside of your tomato leaves. 6-8 days later, they'll hatch, start to eat, and begin the transformations that take them to Big Green Monster status. Assuming you don't finish them off, they'll completely defoliate your plants, then turn into pupae, like these two, found in one of the containers where I was growing tomatoes on the deck.
We live in a world full of mysteries, and all living things have their place in the natural order. But this is one creature that any tomato grower would be glad to live without.
Reading note. God in His wisdom made the fly/And then forgot to tell us why.--Ogden Nash