The gardens in the neighborhood were covered over with straw for the winter and all the tomato plants were long gone, even in sunny southern California. So this Tomato Hornworm Caterpillar was born on a weed with a very bad reputation, Jimson Weed, or Datura stramonium. It also goes by the name of Moonflower, Loco Weed and Devil’s Trumpet. Jimson weed is a poisonous plant related to Nightshade and is deadly to humans and animals. Insects seem immune to its poison, and this caterpillar is enjoying feasting on what many would consider a very dangerous food choice.
It is almost always a shock to discover this kind of caterpillar because he blends in so perfectly with his host plant. When one is on my tomato plants, I run the risk of my hand inadvertently brushing against it, and then I always get a big case of the “yucks!” And further, the caterpillar wears thorns on his rear end, so you’re not quite sure which end is which. When I spied this fat green muncher, I steeled myself to get closer and observe him so that I could take his portrait and not snap a tail end pic. After all, caterpillars do not jump or move fast! Silly me.
Once I found out a bit more about the plant he was on, I became even more interested in the caterpillar that was obviously enjoying a great feast. I know this not possible, but if the caterpillar knew that the Jimson weed was bad for him, would he still eat it? Would he eat so much that he would soon collapse in a drugged stupor? Would he overindulge and gorge himself and become food for a neighboring bird? What would the effect of his diet have upon him and a possible predator? Why was he attracted to it?
And why was I drawn to the plant? I know it was dramatic and had beautiful flowers, but should danger be so alluring? Why do we make choices that are dangerous, or even deadly? Why do we overindulge on things that we know are bad for us?
Please come back tomorrow for a new “Weed Image of the Day” and let me know which ones you like.
We and our weeds are so much more than what we first appear to be.