Eric Carle’s The Very Hungry Caterpillar was my daughter’s favorite book. She’d learned to read, while her cute caterpillar friend ate his way through apples and pears and slices of pie. Although she’s long outgrown it, that book remains on our shelf. But this week, we had a caterpillar experience that was anything but warm and fuzzy.
I had planted tomato plants in containers outside on my patio. In the July heat, the plants grew large and leafy, loaded with plump, ripening tomatoes. Every day or so, I would inspect my future harvest. Then I discovered what appeared to a peck on one of the fruits. A bird, I thought. The next day, I noticed that a much larger chunk was missing. No doubt about it, something was eating my harvest. The pest had destroyed two juicy tomatoes, just as they were ready to be picked. A squirrel or a rat or perhaps a raccoon? The planter box had wheels, so I rolled it across the deck to another location, reasoning that I could outsmart the culprit. Little did I know that I had simply wheeled the perpetrator along with the plants.
The next day, more fruit was damaged. Then I discovered the biggest caterpillar I had ever seen. Three to four inches long and about the thickness of my index finger with what appeared to be a thorn on its tail end. Yuck! The monster clung to a tomato stem, its pale green coloring providing the perfect camouflage. “Very hungry” didn’t even begin to describe this ravenous beast. It had stripped the stem of all its foliage and was chomping away at a green tomato. A tomato hornworm. Gross!
My daughter pled to adopt it as a pet, thinking it would soon make a cocoon and perhaps change into a beautiful butterfly. My thoughts were far less charitable. I dispatched the pest and now keep vigilant watch over my tomato plants for more of its ilk. Oh, and The Very Hungry Caterpillar? I don’t think I shall ever read that book quite the same way again.