Giant Tomato Eating Slugs

No, the title of this post is not the name of the latest punk band (though it would be a good name, wouldn't it?), and no, also, that these are not actually slugs. They are called hornworms but are actually a giant caterpillar...the largest I've ever seen. But I'm getting ahead of myself; let me backtrack a bit.

My garden has been doing really well this year. Last year I had a problem with urban rabbits (click here and here to read those posts). This year I purchased some organic rabbit repellent and that seems to be doing the trick (in addition to a really fat stray cat that stalks my garden). So I was surprised yesterday when I noticed some of the tomato plants had been nibbled on and that there were a few chewed green tomatoes lying on the ground (even more odd because I didn't think rabbits ate tomatoes). Then today I looked and some of the tomato plants that only two days ago stood 3-feet tall were down to stubs. Naively still thinking it was rabbits (and wondering how they got to the top leaves of a plant) I decided to pick some of the half-ripe tomatoes to try to save them and allow them to ripen later. Then, as I reached for the green tomato in the photo above I almost jumped out of my shoes (I'm sure I screamed a's OK my neighbors probably already think I'm a little nuts). I had never seen a bug this big, at least not outside a zoo or science was like a small animal. When I tell you I could actually hear this thing chewing I mean it.

Here's a scenario that Tammy stated at her website:

You get up one bright and shinning morning and decide to go out and pick some fresh tomatos... only to find this horrific sight: Your formerly beautiful tomato plants have been ravished by giant, four inch long worms. This bad dream can be a reality in many parts of North America, and unfortunately our garden was recently introduced to this menacing creature -- the Tomato Hornworm and Tobacco Hornworm (Manduca quinquemaculata L. and Manduca sexta L., respectively).

I've been growing tomatoes for years (my favorite plant) and have never had a problem with these critters. Here's a couple photos of the devastation in my front yard garden (click for a larger view), the backyard--which only has a couple tomato plants--seems OK at present.

I came across the below video when I googled these creatures. It's a good example of the devastation these things can cause. Six of my beautiful and healthy plants are down to twigs because of a caterpillar (I've yet to find more). If you're a vegetable gardener I cannot emphasize enough how much these Avatar-sized caterpillars can consume. If you would like more info, this site (University of Minnesota) looks like a pretty good source.


Jim said…

I had the same problem with my grapes on my garden vines up to a hight of about 5 feet,some bunches eaten half way up, then no problem. Turns out it was my 4 and 6 year olds. The juice stains around the mouth and the cheesey smiles gave them away.

The power of nature.