I met a caterpillar in my tomatos a couple weeks back. My first thought was… “I found her in my garden today! That’s a lot of babies…”
But them I came to understand a horrifying truth. The poor little bugger was being eaten from the inside out. These “eggs” were actually the cocoons of braconid wasps. They come to be through momma’s long, stingerlike ovipositor. She simply uses this like a syringe and inserts her eggs into and unsuspecting host such as this caterpillar. The reason why these eggs survive so easy: she also deposits a hormone that screws with the hosts immune system, leaving the eggs undetected and unharmed until they hatch and start reeking havoc on the poor creatures body. First target, the “non vital” organs. They eat all of these up then make their way through the skin to form their cocoons. By eating only the non vital organs the host is left perfectly alive and fresh until the cocoons are ready and then the hornets invade for the final feast. The host is literally eaten from the inside out because of a long, twisted course of reproduction. I think I’m supposed to think that “it’s all a part of the circle of life,” but I hate meanies, especially when they’re attacking an innocent bystander, and I hate wasps. So, when I realized this was not a reproductive display of caterpillar eggs, but, rather, a horrific reproductive method that makes way for more wasps my roommate, Jesse, and I took action. When I revisited the caterpillar it was in no better condition. It appeared that some more larva were exiting and intending on creating their nest.
Our course of action: to spray the whole parade with indoor insect killer. The caterpillar sprung to life, we had assumed it was long gone, so we quickly switched gears after all the parasitoids were off… hose it off with water.
We drenched the little guy and even wiped him off with a paper towel. We wanted to keep a close eye on him so we created an ice cream bucket home and tossed in some leaves. My evening got worse. I watched him struggle through the night until he was no longer mobile at midnight. I spent the evening performing a sort of surgery: whenever a larva poked out, I grabbed it with some tweezers and flushed it down the sink. However, the string was seemingly endless… until he died.
This small creature and incident of natural reproduction scarred me for several days. I fell in love with that beautifully green and intriguing caterpillar. I came to wonder how these hellish braconid wasps came to be. I questioned God and his creativity. Is it possible that he created them and put them on this earth to destroy these pretty caterpillars from the inside out? Or is it possible that he created the wasps and then Satan dabbled into their make up to create the gruesome destroyer of life? I suppose these are just more questions I have to leave be, maybe one day I’ll understand, in the mean time I guess I just have to trust that He knows what He’s doing up there.