Category Archives: Food

Distinguishing tobacco and tomato hornworm caterpillars

After agonizing over the identification of hornworm larvae for years, I’ve developed two tricks that I’d like to share. Tobacco hornworm (Manduca sexta) caterpillars have stripes (seven of them), so remember that by thinking of Lucky Strikes cigarettes. Horn is usually red or red-tipped, like a cigarette. Also, tobacco gives you dark teeth and lungs … and tobacco hornworms have black shadows on their stripes. Tomato hornworms (Manduca quinquemaculata) have eight chevrons (Vs), which you can remember by thinking of V8 juice, which is primarily tomato juice. Here’s the graphic you can share with friends who might have it wrong:

Photographs of tobacco and tomato hornworm caterpillars

If you can, please spread the word … most of the tens of thousands of tobacco hornworm photographs on the internet are misidentified as tomato hornworms. Even Wikipedia page for tomato hornworm shows tobacco hornworm larvae (I’m working on it …). The problem is that tobacco hornworm eats tomatoes, and people with fancy cameras grow a lot of tomatoes.

For people living in Hawaii, please note that the above doesn’t include Manduca blackburni, which is closely related to tomato hornworm.

Photograph of tomato hornworm from Amanda Hill.

Teaching kids about sugar content of beverages

Teaching kids about the sugar content of common drinks should be a requirement in kindergarten or first grade. Here’s one way: have the class construct a display for the hallway or classroom wall that visually shows how much sugar is hidden in common beverages. Like this:

Ideally, also include sweetened milk, apple juice, orange juice, and Gatorade.

Poster titles matter, too. “Rethink your drink” is a popular title (it rhymes) but is bland and doesn’t suggest that drinking less sugar is the ideal. “Avoid cavities by avoiding sugary drinks” or “Don’t drink dessert all day” might be more engaging and informative.

This project would fit in perfectly with most state standards (for example, see page 10 in Health Education Content Standards for California Public Schools). And because it includes numbers (of teaspoons), teachers can use the poster content to visually drive discussions about addition and subtraction. If this poster was done in a fun way, the experience might vaccinate kids against over-consumption of sugary drinks for the remainder of their lives.

If you want some background information relevant to lesson plans on sugar for K-3 levels, here are some resources from BrainPOP. You can pitch the poster completely in terms of dental health. If you are brave and tenured, make the point that drinking sugary beverages causes kids to consume more calories than they expend.

Here are some examples I’ve collected onto a Pinterest board:

Pinterest board Educating kindergartners about sugary drinks on Pinterest.