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Tomato hornworms, the misunderstood and maligned pollinator of the night

If it's your first time to grow tomatoes, you'll eventually walk out among your plants and find one or two of them stripped of their leaves. What may have been a robust tomato plant full of promise the day before will suddenly have become a skeleton of branches with a few green fruits remaining, and some of those may be partially eaten too. Demoralized, you can't help but seek an answer for this instant misfortune. You'll look among the bare branches, trying to grasp what has happened until your eyes are drawn to the last cluster of leaves still left on the plant. You reach out to touch the branch, which has an usually thick portion of stalk and — good golly, Miss Molly — the branch arches back and reaches out toward your hand, revealing itself to be the largest and most animated worm you've ever seen, almost as long and definitely as big around as a cigar.

The sight of a tobacco hornworm is shocking, even to experienced farmers. Each year when I find my first one fo…

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