Posted on 12 February 2013 by

The Epic Story of the Tomato and the Hummingbird Moth

Photo Credit: Hummingbird Moth by Dwight Sipler used under CC BY 2.0

Photo Credit: Hummingbird Moth by Dwight Sipler used under CC BY 2.0

By Mindy McIntosh-Shetter

The other day, I was out at the community garden watering the tomato plants.

To my surprise, I noticed some movement among the plants.

At first I thought it was a rabbit, squirrel or snake.

As I continued to water, this unique creature began to flutter.

Then, I thought it was a hummingbird.

But what is a hummingbird doing in the tomato patch, I wondered. While I still have red tomatoes on the vine, I had never heard of a hummingbirds nesting or resting in tomatoes. The only attraction I could see was the color red but……..

This year I have found uniqueness and unheard of things in and around the tomato garden. It seems that the tomato hornworm season is never ending while the parasitic wasps that I depend on seem to be in decline. I have also noticed that this year’s drought has caused almost all my tomatoes to crack. Even some of the green ones are cracking, which for me is unheard of.

But the epic story of the tomato and the hummingbird moth started when I bent down and picked up this odd creature. What I thought was a string of different animals was a beautiful and yes I said beautiful hummingbird moth.

While I dislike the offspring of this moth, the coloration and its size mystified me. The body of this garden friend was as long as my hand and I have very long fingers. The wingspan of this creature spanned the width of my chest and when I placed it on my 250-pound husband’s chest, it made a substantial image. This picture of the giant human and the enormous insect demonstrates the epic fight that represents the tomato gardening season.

Tomato hornworm control can take many different forms. One form is to cover the tomatoes with row covers but in my situation that is impractical. I do not follow monoculture nor do I plant in long rows.

The best approach I like to use is Mother Nature’s design. In the beginning of the season I will release parasitic wasps into the garden environment if last year’s supply was observed low. This year, out at the community garden, I did notice a decline in parasitic wasps. While I do not see them, the number of tomato hornworms with the white capsules were on the decline, which was a clear indication to me that the natural predator’s numbers were down and in doing so will need to be refreshed next year.

The number of tomato hornworms this year also seemed to be down but they were appearing later and throughout the season. I was used to seeing them during the months of June and July. Once August appeared, they seemed to be none existent. But this year has been different and I am still finding tomato hornworms in September.

So if you find an unusual creature in your tomato patch, do not fear. Chances are it is the wonderful hummingbird moth.

Until we blog again, nature provides beauty in all forms that can appear during the most unexpected time with epic consequence for man and beast.

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