Caterpillar torture porn


Wired's Erin Biba brings us this image of a caterpillar literally bursting with parasites. Taken by Flickr user sugarpond, this moment of sheer horror is probably the handiwork of one of several species of wasps that lay their eggs inside caterpillar bodies.


    1. Woid was referring to the caterpillar, a larval moth, which does indeed have wasp pupae clinging to it.

      I hadn’t realized how sci-fi those Braconid wasps are… I had only been familiar with parasitic wasps like the ichneumon, which tend to kill their hosts, ultimately. The Brancoid wasp apparently produces what is essentially a virus in its ovipositor, which it injects into the caterpillar along with the egg. The virus suppresses the caterpillar’s immune system, allowing the wasp larva to safely live within its body until it burrows out to spin a silken cocoon. The cocoon anchors the pupae to the host until the adult is ready to burst forth.

    1. I’m also hard-pressed to feel sympathy for tobacco hornworms. They’re neat-looking caterpillars, but they eat EVERYTHING.

      Now, I have a soft spot for eastern tent caterpillars. Their tents are ugly and creepily full of squirming things, but the caterpillars themselves are fuzzy and adorable. We could have an eastern tent caterpillar chaser.

  1. Interesting coincidence (well, to me anyway).

    I was just reading my kid’s Ranger Rick magazine in which they were trying to explain how the parasitic wasp was beneficial because its pupae feed on the caterpillar, which eats plants we want.

    I suppose if the caterpillar is eventually killed before it can breed, thus helping at least keep future generations in check, that’s an indirect benefit of the wasp. But I couldn’t help looking at the picture they had (very similar to the one above) of the very fat caterpillar that had obviously already eaten quite a lot of the host plant before it was killed!

    In fact, I couldn’t help but wonder if the caterpillar wound up having to eat even more, because of the drain of the parasites.

  2. Thanks. Now I have chicken skin. And I’m getting a double layer of grossout by seeing said chicken skin.

  3. That tobacco hornworm will completely devastate a tomato plant in no time at all. I agree, I have NO SYMPATHY for this caterpillar. Even if their poops look hilariously like tiny little grenades.

  4. I’ve had caterpillars like that eat half of one of my tomato plants. I feel no sympathy for it. I’ve also seen one being attacked by wasps before I killed it because it was eating my tomato plant. also they have a death grip on those tomato plants.

  5. I put a tomato horn worm and a medium greenish tomato in a shoebox. In the morning the tomato (except for the small area around the stem) was gone!

  6. oooooh narrowstreetsLA me too me too! All the way up the side of my scalp making my hair raise on end.

    I need an eyeball scrub!

  7. I plant tomato plants every year. I usually don’t get much fruit off of them because this blight crap sets in and starts burning up my plants from the bottom up. Anyway, I’ve had no issue with worms or any other pests, just fungal. But I decided this year that I don’t care if they die early and I don’t get much fruit. I like them for their smell. I go out every day, sometimes two or three times, and run my fingers down the vine just to get that awesome tomato plant smell. “Butterscotch yo.” Next to dried or burning marijuana, it’s my next favorite smell that comes from a seed. Plus, tomatoes are awesome too.

    Any tips on fighting blight?

    1. Try bordeaux mixture and a touch of diatomaceous earth, and pinch off any leaf that looks like it might touch the ground.

  8. I typically put them in the bird bath, where they drown and/or get eaten by birds…

    re: blight. Are the plants watered late in the day?
    Are they near lawn sprinklers? Excess moisture in the soil, and on the stalks/leaves in the evening, can encourage fungal growth. The roots like water, but the stems and leaves do not.

    Water early in the day, every day, and try to avoid getting the vegetation wet, when watering…

    1. If its really blight (i.e. late blight, potato blight, etc.) you need to dig up and burn those plants and not use that soil for tomatoes for several years. If you can get rid of it completely, even better.

      Chances are though it is a combination of irregular watering leading to blossom end rot, and your plants dying back from lack of pruning . . .

  9. I seem to remember reading that is was this kind of parasite – wasp caterpillar – that gave Darwin doubts about Dog. That and loosing his daughter very young.

  10. This pleases me.

    As a gardener, I sometimes think of what I do to combat pests and it is pretty horible. I bribe mercenaries with a nectar payment to violently implant the young of said mercenaries into the bodies of my enemies. I spray bacteria as a biowarfare agent. I populate the soils with mycelium to eat nematodes. I create barries that rip aphids to shreds. Yet it doesn’t bother me. TSFUSRT

  11. Yes, the ideas for the chest-bursters in Alien came from the insect world. Fear not though for there are parasites that feed on parasites too. There are insects one more level down on the size scale that do things like lay eggs on the caterpillar’s surface that will hatch in response to a parasite popping out. The hatched larva then burrow into the parasite nymphs. It’s kind of like Aliens vs. Predators or Batman vs. the Joker. I wonder if there’re secondary Vampire parasites? Timelords?

  12. @ anon #24

    are you sure it’s blight? Do the roots have nodules? Eitherway, try solarization. know that leaving a huge chuck of your vege garden fallow for the duration is tough but it can help tremendously. You also really need to do it the middle of the summer, even if you live someplace like Los Angeles.

  13. @anon re blight, SKR is right. It seems as if the blight fungus is wintering over. This year has been hot and dry so I am somewhat surprised it is an issue for you.

    SKR, any suggestions regarding squirrels? Someone suggested Rhodesian Ridgeback deterrent but that seems more of a commitment then a 22.

    1. Re: Squirrels
      Population control, pure and simple. A .22 air rifle will arouse less suspicion, but you could also go with live traps and a trash can full of water. If you kill them and put them on a lare aerial platform you can feed hawks and encourage that, which is pretty f’n sweet.

      Squirels are too smart to allow to live.

  14. Just to add another layer of ecology onto this: some species of plants, when attacked by larvae (like that hornworm), send chemical signals to attract the parasitic wasps.

    Cool, yes…?

  15. It’s a tobacco hornworm and those are parasitic wasp larvae.

    I took a pic of one in my garden the other day actually. Despite the name they like to eat most types of nightshades . . . this guy was on my peppers.

    I didn’t kill it, I threw him into my compost bin with all the peppers he chewed through. He will probably finish stuffing his face and then pupate. They burrow into soil to pupate and emerge as Sphinx Moths.

  16. I went away for a few days and came home to 7 of 9 tomato plants partial stripped and dozens of half eaten tomatoes littering my lawn below my plants. I thought deer at first until I saw one of these guys. All in all I found six and dropped them in a cup of bleach to kill them. None of them had the parasite, or I would have left them alive to be eaten by wasps.

    These hornworms are catastrophic to your crops.

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