Jun 04 2010

Bubble-breakings of a entire fool

Tomato hornworm

Remember when you first got the Internet? I don’t, but maybe you do. Maybe you remember how kooky those first few spams were? Penis enlargement! Baldness! Impotence! Bwahaha! Nigerian princes with money trouble! Bwahaha! Etc.

Alas, those days are gone. Spam remains dude-centric, like all manifestations of patriarchal culture, but now it’s all banal lists of links to niche porn, or worse, the spammer just phones it in with a monotone “nice post, thnks. britni sex tape” or “how to fix my credit … I must put a bookmark on this website!…”

O the tedium.

Until today. I’m not sure what, precisely, is being expressed here, but whatever it is, it’s totally got a vigorous, sutra-esque, cosmic truthity thing going on.

Eating, loving, singing and digesting are, in actuality, the four acts of the mirthful opera known as freshness, and they pass like bubbles of a grit of champagne. Whoever lets them break without having enjoyed them is a entire fool. Sent from my iPad 4G

Meanwhile, today’s No. 1 Science Information takes the shape of the tomato hornworm, a moth larva belonging to the popular sphinx family of moths. In larval form, the tomato hornworm is known primarily as a pest of the first water. This fat caterpillar is precisely the color of tomato vines, which pigmentational situation we here at the lab attribute to a science-process known as freshness, or, as some folks like to think of it, natural selection.

The tomato hornworm can exceed lengths of 3-4 inches, and will make short work of your eggplant, bell pepper, and tomato plants, which insatiable pillaging you’re likely to take personally, but really, just let it go.

The spike, or “horn,” on its butt is intimidating, but doesn’t sting.

After the tomato hornworm spends the winter pupating deep in the cold, hard ground, it emerges in spring as a humongous — and I mean a 5-incher, bigger than some hummingbirds — bark-hued sphinx moth with orange spots on its sides. At dusk, the moth ransacks flowers, relieving them of nectar.

Observations by the Twistitute for Arthropodical Enstudiement, Lepidoptera Dept include:

The tomato hornworm poops out enormous (1 cm) capsules (or, as the entomologically-inclined like to call it, frass) shaped like radiatore pasta.

The tomato hornworm emits very disturbing clicks when you pry it off your tomato vine (which is difficult, because that fucking caterpillar does not want to go). This alarming sound may be interpreted by heartwarming nature crappists as the voice of a sentient being declaring “As a goddam tomato hornworm I assert my natural right to be here on this vine so piss off, you grotesque pink savage.”

It’s all part of the mirthful opera of freshness.

No. 1 Tomato Hornworm Information Notes

Drees, Bastiaan M. and Jackman, John A. A Field Guide to Common Texas Insects. Houston: Gulf Publishing. 1998.

Dave’s Garden, “Definition of tobacco hornworm”. June 4, 2010 < http://davesgarden.com/guides/terms/go/3080/ >


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  1. Orange

    Radiatore poop? Now that’s mirthfully fresh opera.

  2. JRoth

    That’s really a breathtaking photo, Twisty. Nicely done.

    And I’m really enjoying No. 1 Science Information.

  3. Comrade PhysioProf

    I keep getting these spam e-mails advertising GIANT BLUEBERRY PLANTS!!!1111!!1!!

  4. Larkspur

    Yikes, you got that as spam? That is some rarefied level of spam.

    Those tomato hornworms – I take my chic little newsboi cap (if I had one) off to them, because they seem awesomely focused on fulfilling their destiny. But I confess that in my tomato patch (if I had one), I’d be a grotesque pink savage death islander.

    Once you remove them, what do you do with them? It doesn’t seem prudent to gather them up and relocate them, because they are tomato hornworm, so tomatoes are their destiny. I guess that’s the savage part.

  5. Lisa

    You mean to tell me that there is not, in fact, a million dollar bonus awaiting transfer to my bank account upon receipt of the routing and account numbers? Surely, my friend, the Nigerian princess, wouldn’t lie to me.

  6. Lisa

    Oh, shoot. I misread “princes” as “princess”.

  7. Alex

    So the reason they put this baffling poetry into spam emails these days is to equally embaffle your spam filter into thinking this email juuuuuuust might be legit and cause it to err on the side of caution.

    But, you know, the first step to ruining the pleasure of something weird and unexpected is to make sense of it.

  8. Blind Horse

    Tomato hornworms are to vegetable gardens as patriarchal d00ds are to blamers. The first thing you notice are the copious quantities of crap that they don’t even bother to hide or disguise.

  9. Luke R

    I think the weirdest piece of spam I’ve ever received is this:

    I invite you to discover the latest black hattitude.
    you’ll find a lot of tricks related to the black hattitude,
    You can buy some black hattitude, rent black hattitude, steal black hattitude, or find
    the ultimate black hattitude on our sites.
    have a nice day.
    black hattitude”

    I especially liked that it spends six lines positing ‘black hattitude’ as something to buy or rent, and then suddenly suggests that the person addressing is in fact, themselves, black hattitude.

  10. humanbein

    That photo is one of the best of your best, and that’s really good. Thanks for the black background!

  11. octopod

    Tomato hornworms are entirely astonishing. They look slightly too big and smoothly-coloured to be plausible, seeming instead to be animatronic — somewhat like swans, actually, come to think about it.

    I recall thinking, at some point, that the continued efforts of spambots to produce enough salience to get past filters are one possible frontier upon which artificial intelligence may first arise. Reminds me of Accelerando‘s “semi-sentient autonomous class-action lawsuits”.

  12. Bonnie

    Excellent science-y type info and swell pic today – thanks!

  13. Antoinette Niebieszczanski

    At the age of nine, I ate a rather sizable tomato hornworm for five bucks. (I slapped it between two slices of Wonder Bread and munched it down. Those things are so stankin’ bitter not even birds will eat them.)

    Were I to perform the same feat today, I’d charge at least $5K.

  14. MPMR

    Looking at the photo, I thought the horn was on its head, with an eye peeking out of the side. Thanks to Top Science Blog, I now know instead it has a horny butt.

    A horny butt, leaves giant piles of shit behind, insatiable pillaging, annoyingly iron-fisted grip, and loud squawking when woman wants it out of her life.

    Though I’ve never met a hornworm, I know it too well already.

  15. rootlesscosmo

    bubbles of a grit of champagne


  16. Abra

    Weirdly enough, was just having a conversation about how to control aphids (ladybugs, as it happens…I’m not a big fan of chemicals) and next thing I saw was this. Never dealt with hornworms but got curious and googled and apparently parasitic wasps will do the trick. Where the fuck you acquire yourself some is beyond my understanding, so I’m not that much help I guess.

  17. Blind Horse

    @MPMR – brilliant summation!

  18. Bushfire

    Do you sell your photos? I would purchase a coffee-table anthology of Twisty photos with the occasional patriarchy-blaming caption. Not sure how you would market that to the publisher.

  19. thebewilderness

    Not to worry, Abra. If the prey is there the predators will come.

  20. Blind Horse

    @Abra – I buy parasitic wasps to help control the fly population at my horse barn without using chemicals, although I’m not sure if the kind you need would be the same. Mine come from Spalding Labs and are called fly predators. They ship as pupae in a plastic bag of sawdust via USPS. Looks like little brown rice grains, no smell at all. Hope that helps!

  21. Belle

    What to do with tomato hornworms, once plucked from victimized tomato: feed them to peacocks.

    Apparently the way to eat them and get past the bitter tasted noted above is to skin them. That is what my mother’s peacocks did: they nipped one end, flipped the worm and snapped the skin off. They then dropped the skin, snagged & slurped down the resulting skinless beastie with every evidence of delight. And sought another.

    I’ve always considered that a signature feature of the avian education I received from my parents.

  22. Jill

    Thanks to everyone who complimented my worm foto. It’s wild how, when you bother to set up the tripod and rummage around for the right lens and hitch up the big-ass flash and actually think about the lighting for a change and skip the blurry, the photograph ends up looking kind of nice.

    Bushfire, you flatter me, but I’m not a real photographer, at least in the book-publishing sense. I’m half blind, so nothing is ever quite in focus. I just point, shoot, and hope for the best. Naturally you can download pictures off my Flickr page for free (as long as you don’t use’em in the service of the megatheocorporatocracy, of course!).

  23. Ashley

    The spam reads like poorly translated Japanese naturalist copy. Wt entire f.

  24. Bushfire

    “but I’m not a real photographer, at least in the book-publishing sense.

    How elitist. What exactly is a real photographer? Well, I think you’re pics are great and I will continue with the flattery.

  25. Hermionemone

    My Dad was always collecting unusual insects, large spiders, beetles etc. from his property up in the Columbia River valley and giving them to me or to the entomology department at our university to identify, observe etc. Once he gave me a late-stage luna moth caterpillar. I was expecting it to pupate any day, and one morning there was the shrivelled husk of the caterpillar and 5 or 6 large black bristly flies crawling around in the jar. Some kind of parasitic fly larvae had been eating the caterpillar from the inside out, all the time I had it, letting it move around seemingly normally, until emergence day. Gross and horrifying, but fascinating. Some other year, I came across two Lunas mating, tail to tail and shivering their huge luminous pale green wings on a stump of a tree, watched for a while and left them in peace.

  26. allhellsloose

    I love this photo and what an interesting post. Dusk, moths, pillaging nectar. Just to add to the bats swooping as they feed. My lonesome sits in the conservatory of an evening have just gotten a little better.

    Finding it hard to push the blame button….here goes.

  27. Sarah

    “The mirthful opera of freshness” makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. Much like I imagine a tomato hornworm might feel as it was being enwrapped in Wonder Bread.

  28. Idle Hands

    @Blind Horse

  29. CrowMeris

    The Nest is experiencing a lamentable dearth of peafowl to act as hornworm dispatchers. In their absence, I fill a small bucket with warm water and a squirt of whichever Dr. Bronner’s soap is closest to hand. The little horrors are plucked off with a set of ancient hemostats and plunged into the awaiting Bucket O’ Death. I laugh at clicking or other vocalizations of protest. Occasionally, one of them can be found with white sacs attached, and so avoids the Bucket O’ Death. Those white sacs will shortly hatch into a crop of parasitic wasps. Yippee!

  30. Aster Medallion

    There is a possibility that grit of champagne wasn’t spam.

    When I first sent email from my ipod I had no idea that at the bottom of every email it was attaching the line “sent from my ipod”. Someone wrote me back and told me to stop being such a wanker.

    Perhaps the new iPad does the same thing and someone actually sat down and composed that strange and fuzzy bit.

  31. Aster Medallion

    And that pic of the horny butt is Gardening Life calendar-worthy.

  32. speedbudget

    This picture is disappointing after looking at Jill’s, but it’s still pretty cool.



    I think you should change the name of the blog AGAIN, and now have it be THE MIRTHFUL OPERA OF FRESHNESS. I think it expresses the theme EVERYTHING I GON DO BE FUNKY FROM NOW ON to an even greater degree than that title!

  34. Jill

    I think you should change the name of the blog AGAIN, and now have it be THE MIRTHFUL OPERA OF FRESHNESS. I think it expresses the theme EVERYTHING I GON DO BE FUNKY FROM NOW ON to an even greater degree than that title!

    Great minds!

    I’m way aheada ya, OVERLADY. The new banner is already in production.

  35. wiggles

    Personally I’d opt for praying mantises to dispatch the hornworms over parasitic wasps. Mantises are cool looking and they don’t sting.

  36. Larkspur

    Today I had a gardening job. I wish I had a camera, because I saw the most adorable albino spider. Wee but long almost-transparent legs, little face, and a big bod that was translucent but kind of yellowy. I guess that’s partially digested bugs or something.

    And I saw a small pretty snake. It frightened my employer. I was wearing gloves, and it was clearly not a savage death spider, so I picked it up and escorted it to the far end of the yard.

    It was a pleasant diversion, an arietta at best, and definitely sotto voce. Fresh, for sure, and not too far from mirthful.

  37. Princess Rot

    Poorly-translated spam is the internet’s way of saying: “Millenium hand and shrimp, bugrit, I tole ’em.”

  38. speedbudget

    wiggles: Parasitic wasps don’t sting. Their stinger is the ovipositor you see. It’s been modified for parasitical qualities, so the ovipositor is usually extended, the better to place eggs inside prey.

    Parasitic wasps are also pretty solitary. The stinger in wasps (and bees) is a repurposed ovipositor. The only wasps/bees that lay eggs are the queen, with working sexual organs. In the worker bees/wasps, the ovipositor has been turned into a stinger for defending the hive and/or queen.

    I love bee society.

  39. KristinMH

    I have gotten that same spam comment THREE TIMES in the past week. It’s not as good as another one I got that had multiple scrambled references to (I think) the Mahabharata, but still enjoyable.

    I agree with Overlady, “The Mirthful Opera of Freshness” is an excellent subtitle of this blog. I look forward to the new banner with great interest.

    Oh, and I once got some spam advertising tractors. Unfortunately (for me, at least), it was in Russian. If I had been in the market for a tractor I would have been unable to avail myself of that bargain.

  40. pheenobarbidoll

    The hornworm is really gorgeous though. That shade of green is perfect. A few decimated my serrano pepper plant last summer and the heat of my lovely peppers killed the little bastards. Fat corpses littered the pot. Still, they are quite lovely to look at.

  41. B. Dagger Lee

    We’ve been suffering through a three-year infestation of Eastern Tent Caterpillars that puts Miss Patsy into a rage every time she sees one, so quite recently I sprayed a few choice trees and plants with a product that had BT (bacillus thuringiensis) in it. Supposedly, this bacteria kills only moth and butterfly caterpillars. I sprayed only the plants that butterflies presumably have no interest in, though I was a little dubious, skeptical and heartsick about the whole thing all at the same time. But I was between the caterpillars and Miss Patsy’s rage, so I took the coward’s way out and did something. I guess very judicious and careful spraying of food plants (below the flower neck only) would probably protect the butterflies, and take care of the hornworms.

    Last year I thought Miss Patsy was going to lose her mind as she listened to the sound of the frass pittering down from the trees as the caterpillars ate all the leaves.

  42. Jeff

    Why would anyone want to use parasitic wasps on these cute lil’ things? Aren’t those wasps the ones that plant eggs inside living creatures, and the eventual larvae eat their way out of the host creature while it’s still alive? Is there a difference, ethically, between using those and using whatever the Monsanto-produced poison du jour is?

    Why not just quarantine off a corner of the garden and move all of the little buggers over there? They get a delicious plant to chow down on, and you get to enjoy the rest of your crop without the blood of caterpillar genocide on your hands.

  43. Jezebella

    Oh, Jeff. Silly. Gardening is not just a sweet little pastime for frail old ladies who aim misters at their spider plants. No, real gardeners are absolutely merciless, what with the ruthless thinning of teeny new plants (cull the herd!), the destruction of plant predators who will only breed more if you leave them alone, and the deliberate instigation of savage-death-islandism amongst predator/prey insect species.

    Personally, I don’t have the stomach for it.

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