law of the (tomato) jungle

Was that Kipling who said something about “nature red in tooth and claw”?

Uh, no, actually, according to Mr. Google…

Although this phrase is commonly ascribed to Tennyson, it already was in use. For example, The Hagerstown Mail in March 1837: “Hereupon, the beasts, enraged at the humbug, fell upon him tooth and claw.” This poem was published before Charles Darwin made his theory public in 1859.

Nature isn’t really red, or green, or blue… it’s all of the above, a complex system of beauties and “eeeeeeeeewwwwwwww”.

I had an “eeeeeeeeeeeewwwwwwwwww” this morning, peering into the tangle that has become my tomato…eh…jungle… climbing up the arborvitae in the front yard.

Draped over a tomato bit was the deflated remains of one of these…

Image result for giant worms from hobbit

Uh, wait, it wasn’t quite THAT big (those are WETA Digital’s giant honkin worms from The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies)(I’ve been watching the extras and commentary).

More like this, a large hot dog…

Image result for tomato hornworm

The tomato hornworm. There is also a tobacco hornworm, and the Hickory Horned Devil, which is utterly harmless and lives in trees until it comes down to pupate (these are insects with a full, four part metamorphosis). The tomato and tobaccos hornworms “both feed on the foliage of various plants of the family Solanaceae.” (wiki) So that might really be a tobacco hornworm on your tomato plants.

The tomato hornworm turns into…

Related image

…the five spotted hawk moth. Manduca quinquemaculata.

The tobacco hornworm turns into the Carolina Sphinx moth or tobacco hawk moth. Manduca sexta. 

(By Didier Descouens – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

Both are members of the family Sphingidae, genus Manduca.

The awesome Hickory Horned Devil (the one that feeds on trees) is the regal moth or royal walnut moth. It’s in the same Lepidoptera order as the other two (moths and butterflies), but its family is Saturnidae and its order is Citheronia. It’s an impressive caterpillar (fascinating to raise and watch it metamorphose) and a beautiful moth.

Image result for images hickory horned devil


Citheronia regalisPCCA20040718-3494AB.jpg
By Patrick Coin (Patrick Coin) – Photograph taken by Patrick Coin, CC BY-SA 2.5,


Like most things in nature, it has predators. And when you’re the size of a large hot dog, you’d expect large predators.


OK, not actually predators, but you can plant them around your plants and they will discourage these critters and others.

Some hornworms are raised in laboratories for study, some are actually raised for pet food. Certain reptiles, fish and small mammals will eat them.

The most common predator we can see in our gardens is this one…

photo by

Those are the eggs of a brachonid wasp.

Although highly variable in appearance, they are usually dark with four transparent wings and rarely over one-half inch long. Their size and the fact that there are over 15,000 described species make them difficult to notice, much less identify.


An adult braconid wasp.
An adult braconid wasp. PHOTO: TOM QUIRK

I managed to lose the carcass in the jungle floor, and spent ten minutes hacking my way through tomatoes and conversing like a mariner until I found the thing again.

Ick… I need to actually pick this up now…

close up of cocoons on deflated carcass… photo by, that’s me
one lone cocoon near the other end of the caterpillar… my photo too:

The presence of holes in the ends of the eggs cocoons suggests they have hatched.

My tomatoes are saved, the wasps continue on.


More on how you can encourage these beneficial insects in your garden here…


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