Thursday, June 3, 2010

The Moth

One thing that I've discovered is the pure joy of growing vegetables, from start to finish. From the earliest seedlings, when they first poke out of the ground and point their fragile leaves towards the sun, to full maturity when they thrive and sprout fresh good things every day. I have really enjoyed the process of watering and nurturing their growth. And part of that process are always the bugs...pests who want to eat them too. Oh, they're not mean about it, or malevolent, they're just doing what comes naturally...but nevertheless they are in fact pests...invaders, plunderers.
Tomato plants often become infested with hornworms, those green caterpillars that blend in with the plant so they're hard to see, and they eat and eat, and can grow up to five inches long. One of them can eat an entire tomato plant in a couple of days! So each day I carefully inspect the leaves and when I spot one, I snip off the leaf or branch and toss it over the fence. I don't want to kill them, because a) it would be cruel, and b) it would be extremely gross and messy to smash one of those things, and c) there's no ducks around to feed them to.
It's still early in the season so I was out there yesterday and sure enough, I spotted the tell-tale holes in the leaves and small droppings the worms leave. After close inspection I caught five of them! still small at less than an inch. So I dispatched them all over the fence, to the back alley. And then I glanced at a dark object at the base of the tomato plant. At first I thought it was a piece of wood or tree bark. It was about the size of a small bird, and I thought it might be a bird, dead or sick...and then it MOVED. Small claws and antenna started flicking around, and I knew at once what it was...a Goliath Moth.
It was laying its eggs on the tomato plant, that's where the worms come from. As I lifted a branch to get a closer look, it turned its head and looked at me with two huge black eyes, as if to say, "yeah whadda YOU lookin' at?"
I was taken aback...I'm usually not too squeamish about bugs, sometimes I even find them cute, like ants or ladybugs...but this!...they say humans are hard wired to be repulsed by insects, and in this case, it was true...maybe because of its size. This was an abomination, a foul thing that needed to be destroyed, eradicated. At first I thought of reaching in and grabbing it, but it was so big it would be a problem holding on, especially if it squirmed around and flapped its big furry wings. Or if I poked it with a stick, it wouldn't go anywhere...then I thought...the hose!
Yes, I decided to blast it with the hose, I went and got it and turned the water on. It had a pressure nozzle that went from wide spray to concentrated stream, depending on the trigger, it was like a gun, and I was fully armed. So I came around the corner and aimed and fired, the moth was blasted right off the tomato plant. It tumbled against the fence amid a torrent of mud. Then it flapped its wings and shook itself like a dog, and started crawing right back to the plant!
"Why you little..." I blasted it again, and it tumbled back. There was a gap under the fence, so I aimed to push it through that gap, away from the plants, into the other part of the yard. After sustained water pressure, the moth was pushed through. I went around to the other side, where it was shaking itself off again...then it stared at me...It flapped its wings again and took off, straight at me! I still had the hose so I gave it a blast in a wide spray, it veered off and landed by the fence again. I seethed, I hated the thing...
"Okay, you die." I decided that the hose wasn't enough, it was time for poison. I don't like doing that, but this was war...or so it seemed at the time...I went to the garage to look for various insecticides, I found a can of Raid ant/spider spray, hmm that would do.
When I returned to the fence, the moth was almost back to the gap, making its way back to the tomato plants! "Ohhh no you don't!" I sprayed it with the Raid. It twitched around but kept going, obviously its size was too robust for an insect spray designed to kill smaller, this guy was bigger, tougher...I returned to the garage and found a bottle of Malathion, the concentrate that you mix a few ounces with a gallon of water for an effective insect repellant. I didn't have time to mix it, I took the bottle out there. It was nearly back to the gap in the fence. Unscrewing the cap, I was almost aprehensive at what I was about to do..."Sorry buddy, nothing personal..." I poured the concentrate right on writhed and squirmed in obvious agony, I poured some more on it, if only to put it out of its misery...finally it flipped over and with a final twitch of its legs it stopped moving and died.
And suddendly, almost instantly I felt remorse...I genuinely felt sorry for the thing, a hideous insect at one moment, then a glorious creature that was destroyed...I thought of Native Americans who honored the spirit of every deer they killed...I thought of the tenacity of this poor dumb big moth, it was only doing what comes natural, just trying to carry on as we all do...I stared...there it was, lying belly up, dead...
It was a war of sorts..."I'm sorry, but those are my tomatoes, and you can't have them."


  1. oooh this was quite torturous for me to read, and i must say, the instinct for that mother moth to live was a strong one. I hope all her relatives don't return to attack your tomatoes.... or you! And I hope you have a prosperous garden this year.

  2. Awww sorry Shawn...yeah it became quite the melodrama, but the worms have gone on to greener pastures.