The Tobacco Hornworm, Manduca septa, is a three inch long green caterpillar. It has markings like light cigarettes running down the body, formed from the combination of brown spiracle and a white marking. They are native to North America and are especially common in areas that grow tobacco and tomatoes. After around twenty days they take to wandering about, looking for a place to dig into and pupate. They can stay underground for quite a while. The adults feed on nectar and are called Carolina sphinx months, which I will discuss once I get around to embroidering one.
Research wise, they have two uses. Use number one: they mow through solanaceous plants (tomatoes, tobacco, and other stuff with the nightshades) so are an agricultural pest. Last year I tried growing tobacco (Nicotana “Jasmine Alata”) but one destroyed my plants in about four days. The caterpillar was just too darn pretty for me to squish. The house programmer’s father remembers picking them for a penny per twenty, which he felt was a good price. There is a scene in the film Summersby, in case you need to see a dramatization of the picking of tobacco hornworms. Use number two: they are large, live short lives, are happy eating wheat germ, and the nervous system migrates towards the back skin right before they pupate, making it easy to get to. So they get used for the sorts of things where having a large easily obtainable nervous system is helpful. Poor caterpillars… However, since lab caterpillars eat wheat germ instead of leaves, they don’t absorb the necessary carotenoid pigments to turn them green, and lab raised worms are a lovely light blue.
Enough about the worms and onto the needlepoint. A friend who raises them at Duke University allowed me visit her lab and take a couple home. One did not do so well, although the bird that found him in the bird feeder was most appreciative. The other is still growing but doing so much slower than normal. I suspect it’s due to the low temperature in our house. But here is Manduca sexta, fifth sitar, prototype 1. I hope you enjoy.
“Tobacco hornworm.” Encyclopedia of life, available from http://eol.org/pages/506145/overview. Accessed 3, February 2014.
“Tobacco hornworm, Manduca sexta.” Featured Creatures, University of Florida, Entomology & Nematology. available from http://entnemdept.ufl.edu/creatures/field/hornworm.htm. Accessed 3, February 2014.