In one of my many-a-day strolls through the garden, I was looking at one of the tomato patches, lamenting the loss of most of the leaves on my calabash tomato to some sort of wilt (I hesitate to says its one thing, I am guessing various things are going on here) and I found, hanging from a tomato branch, this caterpillar beset by eggs and what looked like flying ants.
My first reaction was revulsion (OK, that remains my reaction) but I left it there because:
- I could not help myself with wanting to take a shot,
- I knew that someone over at the flickr group “ID Please” would be able to help me identify these two creatures (flies and [[caterpillar]]) and
- I had a sneaking suspicion that something so revolting must be good some how (just like when I see an antique .. if I find it hideous it is bound to be expensive and in demand … like a reversed fashion compass of sorts)
My friends Mean and Pinchy and aw c’mon at flickr helped my identify this as a [[tomato]] hornworm (Five-Spotted Hawkmoth – Manduca quinquemaculata) being consumed by braconid [[wasp]]s, a VERY good thing. Once these wasps hatch they can go on and [[parasitize]] more hornworms.
From the wiki entry on braconids, relating to their parasitism:
“Most braconids are primary parasitoids (both external and internal) on other insects, especially upon the larval stages of Coleoptera, Diptera, and Lepidoptera, but also some hemimetabolous insects like aphids, Heteroptera or Embiidina. Most species kill their hosts, though some cause the hosts to become sterile and less active. In the case of endoparasitoids, species often display elaborate physiological adaptations to enhance larval survival within host, for example the co-option of [[endosymbiotic]] viruses for compromising host immune defenses. These polydnaviruses are often used by the wasps instead of a venom cocktail. These viruses suppress the immune system and allow the [[parasitoid]] to grow inside the host undetected. The exact function and evolutionary history of these viruses are unknown. It is a little surprising to consider that sequences of polydnavirus genes show the possibility that venom-like proteins are expressed inside the host caterpillar. It appears that through evolutionary history the wasps have so highly modified these viruses that they appear unlike any other known viruses today. Because of this highly modified system of host [[immunosuppression]] it is not surprising that there is a high level of parasitoid-host specificity. It is this specificity that makes Braconids a very powerful and important biological control agent.
So these hymenoptera order members are in good in my book. I will just have to look the other way cause they make me nauseous!
Here are a couple shots of a couple of my tomato plants are seem to have a wilt. This first one is a calabash tomato plant with MANY fruits.
The fruits look fine and so many and so heavy that they need to be braced or the branch gets very stressed (see photo)
This is a different tomato (small salad tomatoes)
This also has abundant numbers of small cherry like tomatoes.
I took some new shots of the whole garden today and it seems to become this sort of embarrassing overgrowing crazy green entity! Makes one think of a green version of tribbles.
If you have any ideas of how best to minimize this wilt business next year, I would love to hear it. I plan on planting each tomato far from it’s neighbors and give them abundant space.
I am also definitely going to plant [[tomatillo]]s again (and more, disbursed everywhere) because they bring in the bees like crazy, very good for [[pollination]].