Friday, September 18, 2009

The Downside of Gardening: Bugs

The tomato hornworm has to be the creepiest caterpillar I have ever seen. I love wooly worms; in fact, when I see them, I crouch down and pet them, feeling their soft prickly backs. There is something very cute about these wriggly little ground teddies. (They remind me of bears for some reason.)

The tomato hornworm is the exact opposite. It has no fur, just white lines on its smooth green hide that look almost like creases (I try not to get close enough to find out for sure), or perhaps even war paint. They have a little red spiky cowlick on their rear end; the front end looks eyeless (again, I'm not going to get close enough to find out). What is most horrifying about this worm is the combination of its seeming eyelessness and its teethy mouth. [shiver] These things give me nightmares. They remind me of the sandworms in the movie Dune. And yet, to get them off the plant, I have to pick them off, and I'm always afraid that I'm going to squeeze too hard (they grip the tomato plant stems strongly, and are hard to dislodge) and be rewarded with a handful of green goo.

Earlier in the season I found about 5 and blogged about them; yesterday, I picked 6 off my tomato plants and threw them far into the yard in the sun, hoping that, like vampires, they would turn to ash in the sunlight or, even better, be spied and eaten by birds. I like birds. I don't mind feeding them. Today, I found this one and one other. Back to the hornworms in a moment.

Another creepy bug that I have battled before (clearly to no avail) is the Japanese Beetle. They are once again (or still, I'm not sure which) copulating in my greenery; unfortunately, this time they have picked my okra plants as their conjugal beds.

If you look closely, you'll see we have a couple of stray beetles who have either just finished having sex, are about to have sex, or have no interest in sex; you have a couple in the lower right caught in the act, and upon an even closer inspection, you'll see a buggy menage a troi happening in the upper left of the leaf. The only thing worse than thinking about bug sex is imagining one's parents doing it. [shiver]

And now, back to the hornworms. The only good hornworm in my book is a dead one--or one with parasitic wasp egg sacs all over its body, which will soon hatch and eat the worm. Second best is a hornworm that is about to become spider food.

I know spiders are good for the garden, but this one--a wolf spider, maybe? I don't know--is too big for my comfort. I've never really cared for spiders, and the bigger they are, the less I care for them. I have to pick okra around this sucker somehow. [shiver] It does make me wonder, too, if this monster is living in my okra, are there others about? Just thinking about that is giving me goosebumps and making my skin crawl.

I'd feel kind of sorry for the grasshopper, who was apparently dinner, but he's kind of creepy, too, all wrapped up in his spiderweb blanket, his arms across his chest as if he were lying in state in an invisible casket.

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