I was pretty excited when I found out the caterpillars returned to our dill plants this year, but even those cool striped creatures pale in comparison with this three-inch-long garden discovery:
I haven't seen anything like it, but I guessed it was one of the tomato hornworm caterpillars I've heard about, since it was on the tomatoes, it's a caterpillar, and it has a little horn. I checked into it, and it's actually the related tobacco hornworm, apparently.
But it's a parasitized tobacco hornworm. That means those white things on its back are wasp eggs, laid in the back of a host caterpillar that will eventually be killed by emerging parasitic wasps!
I probably should just have let it be, but since the caterpillar was still alive, I plucked it off my tomato and moved it across the yard, trying to disturb as few of the eggs as possible. The caterpillar squirmed, and even though I was wearing gloves, I squealed in an enthralled-but-viscerally-disgusted kind of way.
I wonder what my neighbors think if they overheard my gardening pursuits. Meanwhile, Joe and I have been trying to work the word parasitized into our daily conversations. And I should soon have a little squad of defender-wasps protecting my garden in their own parasitic way.
Nature is weird.