Monday, August 14, 2006

Tomato Hornworm or Space Alien?

Doesn't this look like a creature from a science fiction movie? I found two of these in the garden munching on tomato leaves. As it turns out, there are over 50 creatures in this picture.

This is a Tomato Hornworm with Braconid Wasp cocoons attached to it. I think the Tomato Hornworm is the absolute coolest garden pest there is. Most people hate seeing them in the garden because they can eat all of the leaves off of a tomato plant. Call me weird, but I have been hoping to find one of these in the garden this year. Actually I didn't find them. My wife found one, and my daughter found another one the next day. I knew they were Tomato Hornworms but I didn't know why they had white cocoons on their backs. We did some research on the internet and found out that they were Braconid Wasp cocoons. There were many good resources on the net but our favorite was The Bug Lady. The Braconid Wasps are parasitic. They live in the Hornworm (which is actually a caterpillar) as larvae, and then make cocoons on the outside to pupate. The adult wasps emerge, kills the caterpillar and flies off to find more caterpillars.

The Braconid Wasps are good guys! They are beneficial insects that control the caterpillar population. You see, there is no need for chemical insecticides, but I can get into that in a future post.

My daughters thought the hornworms were pretty cool too, so we put them in a big jar and brought them in for a couple of days. We put pantyhose over the mouth and waited and watched the tiny wasps hatch. We then emptied the whole jar back in the garden. This picture montage tells the story a bit better:

Notice how many wasp cocoons are on the hornworm in the above pictures. I counted over 300! If only half of them find a new caterpillar to invade, I won't have any caterpillar problems next year. God is amazing! He even thought of making tiny little parasitic wasps to keep our food source protected. Wow!

There are even smaller parasitic wasps out there. GardensAlive! is a store that sells organic and natural fertilizers and pesticides. I used to work there part-time in fact. They sell Trichogramma wasps for you to introduce into your garden to do a similar thing that my Braconids are doing. The Trichogramma wasps are almost microscopic!

Benificial insects are really cool. I even like the Tomato Hornworm. He doesn't eat that much, and I like having space aliens around in the garden. Here's one last close up look!

Yikes, beam me up Scotty!



Great post! Very informative. Now if I see any of these guys on my tomatoes, I let a few of them stay.


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