In A Pickle  

It's woman v. worms in battle for the tomato plant

Battle for the tomato plant

The puny monster hissed a warning, lunged at me and spat green goo.

That would teach me for nudging it with plastic tongs. It had been playing dead on the kitchen table where my hubby placed it. Don’t poke the bear, or in this case, the caterpillar!

I’ve never been a girly-girl. The 10-year-old in me came out to play.

“Wake up Goober, wake up,” I said, and boy did it ever. The repulsive critter reminded me of a mini version of The Slimer in Ghostbusters. But this was no Hollywood creation with ectoplasmic gunk. Thankfully, the creature wasn’t able to fly around like a deflating balloon and slime the wall while passing through it.

I didn’t know what kind of bug it was, but measured its length. I later discovered that the 7.62 cm long Martian was a Tomato Horn worm, and it had two wicked siblings lying in wait in our tomato plant.

They were expertly camouflaged in the leaves upon which they hung upside down, clinging to the vine with their prolegs. The triplets devoured the top of the bush so it wouldn’t grow any taller and chewed on several tomatoes.

The zombie creatures crawled out of the soil and gobbled up everything in their path. All the while, they grew in size and strength. I nicknamed them Goober, Gomer, and Goblinda.

Other hornworms would surface and destroy the plant if we didn't intervene. The Five Spotted Hawk Moth will burst forth from the cocoon and rise from the dirt, shedding its hornworm body.

Their mature selves are equally hideous, with a 12.5 cm wingspan. However, they become useful pollinators, preferring flowers that make them stoned.

Although we made sure this trio of tripping creepy crawlies would never become moths. I placed them on a tin-foil plate and used a watering can with a shower head to fill the bowl. It was the kindest way to euthanize them—a far better fate than being eaten alive by birds.

Gomer and Goober clung to the foliage, using it as a life preserver, and seemed to enjoy the refreshing rain.

Once Len shook them loose from the leaves, they splashed about, having a pool party, until Goober attacked Gomer without provocation. The pair twisted together and slashed with their horns and teeth. Green blood-coloured the water. Goober went for the jugular and was the victor. He pushed his opponent under the surface until Gomer drowned. Goober collapsed beside his dead brother after winning, but died from his serious injuries. Their pacifist sister, Goblinda, stayed out of the battle but succumbed seconds later.

The 30-second fight was intense and while it lasted the song for Rocky — Eye of the Tiger — played in my head.

After, we used soapy water to kill any remaining hornworms on the vegetation.

We waited until the next day to dispose of the triplets, just in case they held their breath like navy seals. The following morning I checked the sidewalk around the pot for little green corpses, but there weren’t any.

Tentatively, I reached into the shrubbery to pluck some cherry tomatoes from the vine. I was worried one might have survived the soapy treatment and would latch onto my hand and bite me.

Tomato worms are not dangerous after all. Their teeth and horns can’t puncture our thick hides, but they will wrap around a person’s finger, which would’ve given me a heart attack. As it was, my skin wouldn’t quit crawling for 24 hours.

Horn worms are one of the largest immature insects in the world and in North America there are 120 different species of them. Worldwide there are 1,200 types.

I should be cautious, in case an army of them arrives at my door seeking to avenge the blood of the three Gs.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

More In A Pickle articles

About the Author

Doreen Zyderveld-Hagel writes about the humour in every-day life, and gets much of her inspiration from the late Erma Bombeck’s writing style. 

Doreen also has a serious side, shares her views on current events, human-interest stories and sometimes the downright bizarre. 

She can be reached at [email protected]

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

Previous Stories