Monday, August 24, 2009
The Pepper, the Pest and the Poop
Ruben is justifiably proud of his pepper plant that grows in a pot in my backyard. He started it from seed last year, it grew and overwintered then started growing again as summer 2009 progressed. It now has a large crop of jalapeno-style fruits ready for picking.
As solanaceae will, the pepper plant has inevitably attracted a Carolina sphinx moth to lay some eggs. Manduca sexta is an attractive large (up to 4 inches or more wingspan) with six pairs of yellow spots on the abdomen. It is also known as the tobacco hornworm in its larval stages, and this one had been hiding out on the pepper plant for some time. These caterpillars grow to be large (over 3" long) but can be surprisingly hard to see on the plant, often giving away their presence if not their exact location by the damage they cause and their droppings.
To distinguish them from the very similar tomato hornworm, Manduca quinquemaculata, know that the caterpillars of M. sexta have 7 white backslashes on each side (as opposed to Vs), and a reddish horn which is usually hooked (as opposed to a blackish horn usually straight). I think both species are happy to eat whatever tomato, potato, pepper, datura, and other members of the nightshade family you have been pampering in your garden.
Understandably Ruben was not keen on allowing this hornworm (or its sibling) to stay on as a guest among his beautiful peppers. He squished one of them, but agreed to let me get a few pictures before the 2nd pest met its demise.