It’s hunting season here in Oklahoma; no license needed and weaponry is just a matter of personal taste. Some of us on the ranch kill with our bare hands, but me, I don’t have the stomach for the “wet work.” I prefer the bottom of my shoe. Here on the 160 we’ve instituted a Zero Tolerance Program (ZTP) for this particular varmint. The prey: the crafty, conniving and voracious hornworm.
Where do hornworms come from? Large (and really quite beautiful) Sphinx moths deposit eggs on the undersides of tomato leaves and the larvae eventually chew their way out of the eggs and into the green Eden of healthy, succulent tomato plants. The tiny caterpillars become fat, juicy and quite large (3″-4″) as they feast on the tender leaves. They seem to love to dangle from the very tops of the plants, but it takes patience to spot these critters. They are the color of the plants on which they feed, but the tiny spike at the ends of their bodies gives them away.
Hornworms can quickly and efficiently strip bare the branches. The caterpillars – if my shoe doesn’t find them first – will molt four times before going walkabout. They find some nice, comfy soil, dig in and during the final molt a green skin forms which eventually – buried – will turn hard and brown. After about three weeks, the skin splits and an adult moth emerges – to begin the cycle of destruction all over again.