You’re right, this species is not a butterfly. It’s a Hawk Moth. But it has the best caterpillar ever. Seriously. And the details of the Manduca sexta’s caterpillar’s life story – well, just you wait.
Let me put this photo into perspective. The creature below, seen feasting on my Mother’s tomato plants, is fatter than your thumb, and 4 to 5 inches long, almost the size of a hot dog. And this caterpillar has a red spike ‘horn’ at the end of its body. It might bite you. I kid you not.
Told you, best caterpillar ever. This creature can denude the leaves and blossoms of half your tomato plants in a day or so, and chew sizable holes in ripening tomatoes. How absolutely fascinating. How gross.
This is a Tobacco Hornworm, on a tomato plant. Easy to think it’s a Tomato Hornworm, hmmm? But the slanting diagonal lines on its bright green body and the nasty red tail spike give this caterpillar beast away.
Those of you who like a scary bedtime story, who read science fiction, or who play video games involving alien invaders, should listen to the shocking tale of the unlucky Tobacco Hornworm.
These greedy caterpillars are a favorite target of parasitic braconid wasps. Yup, parasitic wasps (from outer space maybe). The wasps apparently know when the caterpillars are eating your tomato plants because the plants themselves send out signals, releasing a distinctive scent even as they are chewed. Plant S.O.S. The wasps arrive, and deposit their eggs inside the Hornworm. As these eggs hatch, they feed on the inside of the caterpillar, then emerge to spin their cocoons, and attach themselves to the skin of the Hornworm. The Hornworms start to look like they are carrying a load of rice grains sticking out of their backs. The caterpillars are hosts to their own killers. The Hornworms become parasitized caterpillars.
You can’t make this stuff up.