Friday, August 14, 2009

The Devastation of Knowledge

If you've never heard of a Hummingbird Moth, a.k.a. a Sphinx moth then you've missed a real gem of an insect. They actually move like hummingbirds. In fact, they look like miniature hummingbirds darting backward and forward, wings moving thousands of times per second!

My first encounter with these delightful creatures was in Santa Fe, New Mexico. We were eating at night at a beautiful restaurant, al fresco. Along each side of the flagstone pathway were multitudes of blooming flowers lit by the decorative street lights. Darting among the blooms were dozens of Hummingbird moths, long probisci extended happily drinking nectar. I was enchanted!

I was ecstatic when later that same month (June), I discovered accidentally that they are also native to Michigan. I had gone out at night to retrieve the forgotten mail with a flashlight, when I happened upon one at my honeysuckle vine. I immediately went out and purchased solar lights for all my flower gardens, so that I wouldn't miss seeing my little darlings...

That was several years ago, and I haven't seen any since then. Until two days ago... I saw a beautiful specimen in the middle of the day in the flower garden that I can view from my computer! I grabbed Mike's camera (yes, mine is still at the Nikon hospital with a bill of $295 to date) and ran outside to capture the little fella in action. Apparently, Michigan Hummingbird Moths aren't as friendly as New Mexico moths, as he zoomed off before I could even focus!

I waited around to see if he or she would return, but to no avail. But I started thinking...
I would research this perfect creature and find out it's favorite food sources and host plants. After all, I could attract more if I had more knowledge!

After only a few minutes of research, I was HORRIFIED to discover that I had fed 15 Hummingbird Moth larva to my chickens only the day before! They are TOMATO HORNWORMS!!! My nemesis in the garden, my enemy, my foe, my challenge to produce healthy uneaten tomatoes and foliage every year! In fact, I hate tomato worms so much that I pay my kids $1 for every worm they find and $2 for the tiny ones who haven't gotten big enough to really create damage! I always delight in the way my hens pounce on the fat writhing green worms, sometimes playing tug-o-war with another hen desperate for the tasty morsel.

What now! I was torn. How could I possibly love and hate with a passion the same creature (in a slightly different form)? Now my husband would think the solution very simple. Get over the moth, and keep killing the hornworms...end of story.

But it's not that easy! I really LOVE those moths! I can't just turn off the years of devotion and rapture like an emotional faucet. So, like I usually do, I began to try to figure out a way to "have my cake and eat it too". There must be a way to have my moths without hornworms in my I did some more research.

I discovered that besides tomatoes, the moths also prefer to lay their eggs on Datura, Deadly Nightshade, and a few other assorted noxious weeds. For about 10 seconds I thought about planting a separate garden of these specimens, but knew in my heart that the pets, children, and animals on my hobby farm were more valuable to me than chancing a poisoning with these weeds.

Plan B: Next year I ought to plant twice as many tomato plants than I need, so that half could be "donated" to the hungry caterpillars. I would go so far as to remove the worms on my garden specimens and relocate them to the extra plants. This might work, though the main problem being my husband, who after thinking I have lost my mind, would probably nix the whole project before it started.

My boss at least has some compassion for my dilemma. She has agreed to bring in a custom built terrarium- type acrylic box that I shall line with garden soil, (as the hummingbird Moth pupates underground), transplant a hornworm complete with fresh tomato fronds and wait patiently for my prize lepidoptra to make it's entrance!

What does my husband think about this whole situation, you ask? Well, I haven't actually told him what the pupa form of the Hummingbird moth is yet...If I did, do you think he would trust me to go into the garden to rid the world of hornworms without rescuing a few besides?


Roy said...

Decisions, Decisions Decisions. Do I feed my aesthetic side to revel in the beauty, or do I protect my food supply?

Maybe you could scatter rotten tomatoes in the open pasture, allow some to "volunteer" sprout, and have them grow out in the back 40.

Stacey said...

I like it! Thanks!