(Quick mention that I have an entire post dedicated to gardening tips. I don't have time to help people like I used to, so feel free to help yourself! :D [/your friendly neighborhood Master Gardener.]
A few years ago I came out to my garden, HORRIFIED by these massive...creatures that were eating my garden to the ground. Specifically, my tomato plants and my Datura (Angel's Trumpet.) I had to use TWO HANDS to pull these buggers off the plant stems, because they were on tight. I tossed them into my driveway, like I do when I find grubs. I've trained the mockingbirds, you see. When they see me come out side with tools, they line the fence and watch. I toss grubs (typically) up in the air, or on the sidewalk, and they swoop in and get an easy meal. Awesome.
These buggers didn't even hit the ground before there was a fight among the birds. Big meal, is what I'm saying. I thought these were common tomato hornworms - at first glance, they certainly look like them.
But I realized after letting a few live that they weren't. They didn't become gold/brown hawk moths. These particular caterpillars turn into hummingbird hawk-moths. They are BEAUTIFUL.
Well, they eventually are.
Meet: Manduca sexta v. Weird name for an ugly critter. It's closer to a tobacco hornworm instead of a tomato hornworm (stripes versus Vs) but this is a species that I'm having a hard time nailing down the binomial because of the end result. [/further geekery]
This is the plant it is nomming: an Angel's Trumpet. CAUTION: Datura flowers are poisonous, so do not plant them near livestock or toddlers. Toddlers will get very sick to their stomachs. Goats, etc. will die. :( It's in the "witch's weed" category with nightshade and mandrake. It's a weird flower. It's an old-fashioned flower. I am not a huge fan. (The annual that is purple tinged it pretty, but it's an annual. No me gusta.) The seed heads/ fruits are the size of golf balls, covered in spikes, and it spreads prolifically. But I keep two in the garden for these caterpillars. (At first it was to give them something besides my tomatoes to eat. Now that I know what they become, it's to have those in the world.)
This is what they do to the plant. (See the tiny tiny leaves growing? This is a resilient plant. It bounces right back. Which is why I don't care if they eat it up.) That long white tube hanging down is longer than my hand, btw. The flower emerges from that tube, so the whole thing is a good foot and change in length.) ..this is also the neglected part of my garden, so ignore the over-grown grass.
Interestingly enough, the red flower behind the plant? Hummingbird bush. :) From chrysalis to dinner. Nature's cool. :D (These are self-sown, I didn't put them there.)
Here's a bit of scale for you. I was too freaked out to get REALLY close without my gardening gloves (those stingers on their tail hurt!) They are the length of the tip of my thumb to the base at the bottom of my hand.
Really big. o_0
(and the tiny black pellets that look like rabbit droppings on the driveway? That's the caterpillar's poop. THEY ARE THE SIZE OF RABBIT DROPPINGS. Big critter, is what I'm getting at.
This is what they become. (not my picture)
These pretty things look and move just like hummingbirds. The main difference is that these come out at dusk and linger at night. In my garden they go BANANAS for Russian Sage and Mexican Sage. (I'm growing the UN of gardens.) Their proboscis mimics a hummingbird's beak. And you can also tell the difference as the only hummingbirds I have in my garden are ruby throated hummers - they have a green body. (That's the most common in this region.)
Moths are awesome. And so? I let the caterpillars live.
I have a lot of gardening to do, but I'm going to do it away from these things. If only to keep the mockingbirds occupied elsewhere...
(And this is my favorite shot that I've taken of a hummingbird - actual bird, see? - in my garden.) And this is my favorite collection of pics from my garden. :)
ION: PLEASE TELL ME YOU HAVE READ NEAR MISSES, WHICH WAS COMPLETED YESTERDAY. And then please tell me that you left her lovely comments, because that's just the right thing to do after being moved by such a fantastic and beautiful story. :) *cough* NOW ON EBOOK.