I ran to the garden to pick a few cherry tomatoes for Sam's lunch today before heading out to pick him up at school. As I was approaching the vines, some movement on a leaf of our tiny orange tree caught my eye. Looking closer, I noticed it was a very large insect. A praying mantis, very nice! I didn't have time to linger, so I continued towards the cherry tomatoes, started picking, and then noticed the droppings of a gigantic tomato hornworm. There it was on the tomato stem, munching away.
I hadn't seen one in many years. Not something you really want to see on your precious plants; these guys have big appetites. I had to leave to get Sam, but found it in the same spot hours later and took these pictures (no such luck with the praying mantis). I picked it off the plant and put it on the ground for Sam to get a closer look. It is fatter and longer than my finger, felt muscular when I grabbed it bare-handed, and writhed with its stubby legs from being disturbed. Small bugs do not bother me; we allow small spiders in our home, but relocate the large ones outside (or down the toilet). I am careful not to instill a fear of insects in Sam. So I swallowed my discomfort, picked up this thing again with a leaf, showed it to our neighbor, and carried it over to our green waste bin where I said a little apology and dropped it inside.
I also explained to Sam that we don't want this caterpillar eating our tomatoes, even if its camouflage is rather elegant. Later I looked it up in my insect books and realized that the horn actually protrudes from the rear end, and that they are sometimes parasitized. Now I wish I'd checked for signs of ovipositor attack, although it really was so fat and muscular that I rather doubt it was being eaten from within.