Q: I found two caterpillars on a tomato plant. They had eaten halfway through two green tomatoes. [About 3 inches long, plump green with seven white "V"s along the back and a spine protruding from the top back end.] What is it?
-- Elaine, Pittsfield
A: This is, for many a gardener an all too common and unwanted guest. Commonly called hornworm, it can either be the tobacco hornworm, or the tomato hornworm, both similar in appearance, except that the tobacco hornworm has a pink, orange or red horn, and the tomato hornworm has a black or blue horn. Both feed on tomatoes and other members of the nightshade family that include potato, ground cherry, tobacco, nightshade. As adults, we know them as sphinx or hawk moths.
Q: In our old bird guide, the small gray bird with a tuft of feathers on its head is listed as a Tufted Titmouse, but is a Southern species. We have recently seen two in our yard pecking at a small suet cake we hung out. Also at the cake is a small woodpecker and several chickadees. Should we report the Titmouse to someone?
-- Anthony, Pittsfield
A:Your bird guide is historically correct, but times change and so do the range of many birds. The first account of this "Southern" species dates back to January 1945 (by Snyder), but no other sightings occurred until 1953. As recently as 1955, the bird was reported as "Rare vagrant from the south, with an increasing number of records for the state in recent years, since the bird has moved northward into Connecticut." ("Birds of Massachusetts" by Griscom and Snyder). In 1904, the bird was absent in all of New England, except for southwestern Connecticut, where it was reported as a rare visitant. Today it is fairly common, and there is no need to report it.
Enjoy the season: Not only do many kinds of birds migrate south come late summer and into fall, but also the well-known monarch butterfly. Less know is the green darner dragonfly that will be passing through in large numbers on their southern migration. Look for them toward the end of this month and into early October, especially over sunny meadows. One early October a few years ago, while walking the hillside behind the Clark Art institute in Williamstown for a Berkshire Week story I was researching, my wife and I were surrounded by them. What a feeling!
Thought for the day: Encourage deer to your yard if you will, but bear in mind that they are a vector for the deer tick.
Questions and comments for Thom Smith: Email Naturewatch@live.com