Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Who eats my Tomatoes?

After they were just hanging on during the hot summer months, my cherry tomatoes have finally been blooming all through October and November. Right now they are full of promising fruit, with the diameter of a quarter and just showing a slight blush. I will harvest just before we go on our holiday trip to California.

But I am not the only one to harvest. First I saw some wilting leaves, then a lot of dry ones and frass...and even a hole in a tomato.

I found green caterpillars rolled up in the wilted leaves.  I've been in caterpillar and moth mode this summer since I met Dave Wagner who recruited my help to get specimens for his next book, a field guide to the caterpillars of the Southwest. So I brought a leaf with a fat green worm inside to photograph it. Later there was just the shriveled leaf in the white porcelain bowl that serves as my photography stage, and I thought I had lost the caterpillar. It happens.

Yesterday I noticed that a little slip of brown chitin protruding from the dry plant material. I carefully unfolded the leaf and found an empty pupa. Too bad I didn't keep it in a closed container! But I hadn't expected a December emergence and I had no patience or room to have yet another over-winter-diapause-pupa-container sitting on my desk till spring.

This morning I discovered a very strangely posed insect under the bedroom ceiling. It took me a moment to even recognize it as a moth. So I got a step ladder, took some photos, posted them to Bugguide, and

Eggplant Leafroller, Lineodes integra

Voila! Not even an hour later Maury Heiman and Charles Melton had identified it as Lineodes integra (Eggplant Leafroller - Hodges#5107).
Eggplants and tomatoes, both in the Nightshade family (solanaceae), are closely related and share a lot of parasites. So the moth definitely is my escapee from the tomato leaf. I think it's rather pretty, don't you?

Bell pepper plant that volunteered from seeds thrown into the compost bin

I'll let the caterpillars have the tomato leaves but I am glad that they haven't found (or don't like) my bell pepper plants that are producing very nicely and my little chiltepin seedlings that are just a couple of inches tall.     

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