Tomato Hornworm Standout!

dottie_in_charlotte(z7-8 NC)September 13, 2012

Last week I found and snipped the short stalk of tomato with a hornworm eating. Medium sized.

I took the stalk,worm and all to the opposite end where a volunteer grape tomato plant was sprawled. Lost track of him but leafless stalks showed he'd continued feeding.

I don't know why I moved that worm..I usually squish them.

I found that worm today, an absolute standout of white among all the green.

Never in my so many years of gardening have I seen a tomato hornworm so thickly covered in parasitic wasp egg/larval cases.

Natch, no camera.

Hornworms didn't come out here as early as usual this year and just maybe their appearance coincided with the brachonid wasp arrival ( that correct?)

It sure reminded me of Dad explaining that 'that worm' needed to stay on the tomato plant when I was a kid squishing TW.

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braconid wasp

I believe the white things are the cocoons that the wasps hatch out of. The eggs are microscopic and laid on the caterpillars back, the eggs hatch and the larvae (technically a maggot) burrow inside the caterpillar and float around absorbing nutrients from the body tissues. When the magic time comes all the maggots dig their way out through the skin and make the cocoons we can see.

Some county fairs have horn worm competitions where gardeners bring the biggest worms they can find. Most people don't know that the really big guys are infected with the wasp larvae. The wasp babies pump out chemicals that keep the caterpillar from developing into a pupae and then a moth. It is doomed the minute the wasp eggs hatch. It will live a much longer life as a walking cafeteria for the wasp babies and thereby get bigger and bigger all summer.

It doesn't matter where you put the "rescued" worm. The wasps will find the tomato patch and future hosts.

    Bookmark   September 13, 2012 at 2:27PM
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dottie_in_charlotte(z7-8 NC)

Good, because the slightly shrivelled hornworm with cocoons went on the mulch pile today.

    Bookmark   September 19, 2012 at 6:26PM
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