Quality time in my garden happens late in the evening, often after dark. I consider it exquisite, a special place filled with night flowering plants. Most are white, all are fragrant. It’s a heady experience.
For company I have little more than a few bats, flying high above my string lights, moths, the occasional katydid and gray tree frogs. It’s a style of garden that I have repeated for many, many years. High summer is good, fall is even better. Sometimes I have music playing, sometimes I even dance.
I’ve come to rely on the Carolina sphinx moth as a regular visitor and evening companion. The garden is really designed to please them; nicotiana and tomato plants are there for their dining pleasure. In fact the night is gauged by how many adults are flying around. An extremely good night might have 8, collecting nectar, zipping by just inches away. The movement of plants tells you they have arrived, usually around 9:30 when days are long. They are large in size, especially when compared to other moths, but fast as fast can be.
Commonly known as the tomato hornworm, by day I find them eating the leaves of nicotiana, they prefer Nicotiana sylvestris (flowering tobacco) even more than tomato foliage. Recently I found a sickly caterpillar, part of its body was black and it was clearly dying. An unusual sight, the more common issue is the parasitic wasp that uses them as a host for their young, laying white eggs on their back. A bit of research revealed the problem, commonly known as black death or NPV; Nuclear Polyhedrosis Virus. As the virus spreads through their body, they actually liquefy. In death the virus is spread, so contagious that even the plant they were feeding on can spread it to others.
Both butterflies and moths have no immune system, so this sort of thing is 100% deadly. With more and more people raising monarchs, (and other butterflies), more attention has been dedicated to the virus. In order to stop its spread, the sick caterpillar should be removed, isolated to confirm the problem. Even the plant it was feeding on needs to be removed. In the garden the dead caterpillar should be burned, not composted.
A few of you, vegetable gardeners (I suspect), might think this is utterly ridiculous, nurturing tomato hornworms? I may, in fact, be the only person on this planet that cares so much for a big, fat, green caterpillar. But when it comes to night time in my enchanted place, I love their company.