Q: What are these caterpillars and how do I get rid of them?
Q: Last evening, I had a beautiful penta plant and this morning it was 75% stripped. Close examination identified two caterpillars which are about 3″ long, 1/2″ diameter, primary upper (top) body color earthy-brown-green (dark) with highlights consisting of a row of regular designs on the sides in a yellowish green that resemble slash marks. This critter has two eyes that look like tiny vitamin A or E gel capsules, clear, yellowish, about double the size of the head of the common pin. I have attached a photographed of them. What do you think and how do I get rid of them?
A: I am not sure about the specific species but I believe these larvae belong to the group of sphinx moths. These moths are comprised of a large and diverse group of heavy bodied, sometimes colorful moths. Familiar examples are the five-spotted hawk moth (the tomato hornworm) and the Carolina sphinx (the tobacco hornworm). Over 124 North America species are known. The adult moths have wing spans of 1-6 inches long that beat so quickly they resemble hummingbirds or large bees. The adult moths visit flowers for nectar but the large larvae can cause damage to vegetables and ornamentals. The larvae are stout, usually hairless, bright green to dull red or brown. In the United States, we call these creatures sphinx moths but in Europe and Canada they are referred to as Hawk Moths. It is going to be tough to control this larva since it is so large but you can try an insecticide specifically formulated for moth larvae or you could hand pick them off and throw them away.