A few days ago I went out to the deck to pick 3 ripe tomatoes. When I got out there, all 3 had been chewed on. Even a couple of the green ones had been eaten. I figured it must be a squirrel. There's one that always gets into our bird feeder. I also considered the possibility that my next-door neighbor had made a late-night visit to my deck to try my tomatoes. She had threatened to steal them when she learned we were growing some. (She loves home-grown tomatoes!)
Last night I went out to check on them again. This time, not only were the tomatoes all half-eaten, most of the leaves were gone too. And this huge, yet beautiful, bug was happily munching on one of the green tomatoes. Isn't he incredible! He was at least 3 inches long. As I was admiring him, I saw another one as big as this one. And another one! In all, there were 5 huge ones and a baby one. (The first picture is the baby one)
A quick search on the internet revealed that this is a problematic agricultural pest called the tomato horn worm. They are the larvae of a huge moth called the hummingbird moth (because it is as big as a hummingbird).
My 3 boys wanted to put them in a terrarium and let them transform in their rooms. I vetoed the idea based on the fact that 1. they probably wouldn't survive (they over-winter in the soil and I didn't think we could recreate the soil and temperature requirements, and 2. I didn't think it would be responsible to release the moths if they did emerge since this is an incredibly damaging insect to tomato crops.
So I got rid of them. I was labeled a murderer (even though I couldn't bring myself to kill them - they are too big and squishy - I put them in a plastic bag in the trash). And I'm happy to report that my tomato plant has a bunch of tiny new leaves on the mostly bare stems and even one baby tomato.