A Tale of Two Caterpillars

This is a tale of two caterpillars: the Gulf Fritillary and the Tomato Hornworm. The former, I invited into my garden; the latter is an unwanted guest. To my eyes, both are beautiful, but I revere creepy crawly things more than most people.

Gulf Fritillary caterpillar

Gulf Fritillary caterpillar

Tomato Hornworm

Tomato Hornworm

Gulf Fritillary Tomato Hornworm AdultThe Gulf Fritillary grows up to be a beautiful orange butterfly; the tomato hornworm grows up to be a fairly attractive moth, if you are into browns and neutrals. But it’s what they eat at the kid’s table that defines their status in the garden.

While most gardeners plant passion vines for their flowers, this  trait does nothing for me. To me the flowers look unnatural, like they belong on Mars or an old lady’s bathing cap. Proof that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I planted a passion vine specifically to entice female Gulf Fritillary butterflies, who taste the leaves with their feet, and if they pass the taste test, lay their eggs. The eggs hatch into orange caterpillars sporting black spikes. The caterpillars eat the leaves and, after a few molts, form a chrysalis that looks like a dead leaf. I saw one for the first time on a vine that attached itself to the window screen on the north side of the house. Meanwhile, a few feet away, tomato hornworms are busy munching away at my husband’s tomato plants. Their mothers sneaked into the garden under cover of darkness and laid their eggs on the underside of the leaves. It’s not that my husband likes killing things, but his love of tomatoes far outweighs my love of insects. I leave the squishing of caterpillars to him, while I sip my coffee and fret over my little orange and black babies. Will they be eaten by spiders or will wasps lay their eggs on their soft bodies? Will a butterfly emerge from the chrysalis or will it shrivel on the vine? Either way, it’s a jungle out there.

To hear a poignent requiem to the tomato hornworm, listen to Stanley Kunitz read his poem at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CkwAjQYfftg

Blue Passion Flower

4 thoughts on “A Tale of Two Caterpillars”

  1. You, too, should write a book, Sarah. Your descriptive use of words is interesting and fun. Thanks for sharing. Hopefully, Mark’s tomato plants will survive the Tomato Hornworm invasion!

    1. Thanks Karen! Mark is on top of it. He sprays the plants with the hose and then collects the ones that get knocked off. I think we’ll be eating tomatoes this summer.

  2. Mike has battled the tomato hornworm, too! Devastated our tomato crop a few years ago. Thanks for the chuckles, loved the requiem.

    1. When you try to grow your own food, you get an idea of why organic vegetables are so expensive! They must have crews of people assigned to squishing caterpillars.

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