Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Nature's classroom

Or perhaps... a garden surprise. Either way, a learning lesson for all and an ever-increasing appreciation for God's creative hand. You know, it never ceases to amaze me-- the countless lessons that are just waiting for us, right outside our kitchen windows, if only we take the time to go out and peak. God is so very good that way!! His creation is just brimming with nooks and crannies to explore and discover, and each and every one holds another mystery to unfold or another oddity to examine... leaving us filled with a wealth of new tid bits to share and savor... or perhaps just to mull over for a few lazy days at at time.

Well, one day last week proved to be no exception. On Tuesday we drove to Grandmom's & Pop's house for the day (with the purpose of leaving Big Man behind so that he could finish out the VBS week with Gmom), and naturally I chose to stroll through my mama's vegetable gardens for a peak at all her goodies therein. Well, it didn't take long to notice that something had been feasting on her tomato plants... and that something had all but decimated a handful of them. Mom told me she had just noticed it earlier that day and didn't suspect the deer (her usual garden munchers) but instead suspected a much, much smaller vegetarian... a creepy little thing that, upon closer inspection, was most certainly enjoying the abundance~

And then we found another.
And another. And another... each one a good 3 inches long.

= nasty not-so-little creatures who have been known to decimate entire
tomato plant populations in a matter of days, leaf by little leaf.
I wish I had taken a picture of the plants themselves--
many of the branches were virtually leafless
(and as we all know, a plant without leaves doesn't stand much hope of survival).
Evidently, these guys were well on their way.

After a thorough hunt, we pulled off 5 or 6 altogether, but the following morning
Mom found 2 or 3 more... hopefully the last of the bunch. We chucked them all over the fence;
hopefully, they won't find their way back.

Now here's the part that the biologist in me finds absolutely fascinating--
see all those little white things attached to the hornworm's back?

As an opossum carries its young, so the hornworm carries its young
(or soon-to-be young), right?


As it turns out, those white things are indeed eggs, but they're not HIS eggs.
Tragically (for him), he's fallen prey to a tiny parasitic wasp...
a clever creature who instinctively lays his own eggs along the hornworm's back.
After hatching then, the very hungry itsy-bitsy wasp larvae burrow IN TO the worm itself
and feed off him... and thus kill him in the process.

Pretty interesting, huh? My boys thought that was the coolest~

So... should you find any of these egg-covered hornworms in your garden--
don't kill them (or throw them over the fence and out into the woods :).
Instead, nestle them-- along with the leaf on which they're currently munching--
amongst the leaves of your sacrificial tomato plant
(the one that's already too far gone to be saved) and allow the wasps to hatch...
and thus-- naturally-- take care of your potential hornworm population.

(As for the hornworms that are NOT currently carrying any wasp eggs,
just cut them in half with a pair of garden scissors.
The helpful gentleman on this YouTube video made it look very, very easy.
Still, I think I'll let the boys tackle that job.)

So as for science in the summer, I'll borrow one of Martha Stewart's famous lines--
"It's a good thing."
And thanks to the Lord's creativity, a little time outdoors, and a couple of curious minds,
my boys and I now know a little bit more about our tomato plants
and the critters who enjoy them as much as we do!

Happy gardening!


gretchen said...

we had Tomato Hornworms before on our tomatoes... :( sad --- and ugly interesting little creatures... and I am not a fan of them - just because they rob me of my summer tomato sandwiches... love the pictures... sorry about your mom's plants... enjoy your day.

Carrie said...

Very interesting ... I think I learned several new things!!

Super-great pics, Heather!!! You are really on a roll this summer! I wish it would rub off some ... I'm still in my funk. ;)

Linda said...

This is just great Heather!! I had no idea. I must say, a teeny part of me feels a little sorry for the worm. That's not a very happy way to go :-)
I do hope they stay away from the tomato plants.
Thanks Heather. This was fun.

Christine said...

Oh, yes, the tomato hornworm. We love/hate those little guys. I've been fascinated with them since I was a child when I discovered them on my mother's tomato plants. It was just a couple summers ago though that I learned that the little white eggs where a death sentence. My girls are equally fascinated by them and I have to say would NEVER let me cut them in half -- OH! the reaction to that one would be more than I could handle! ;) After watching the worm and touching it's incredibly soft skin, we just throw them over the fence into the field and hope they find something else to munch on. God's creation is astounding!! Thanks for the reminder, Heather. I hope your weekend is brimming with new wonders and sweet moments with those you love!