It’s not the usual suspects in Castro Valley bell pepper heist

DEAR JOAN: I’ve been growing bell peppers in my garden for decades. I’ve never had anything eat them — until last week.

When I went to water and possibly harvest a couple of peppers, they had all been munched on.  It almost looked like the critter had cut them from top to bottom and eaten the part that fell on the ground, along with the insides of the half they left hanging on the plant.

What critter had a feast on the peppers – rats, squirrels, opossums or raccoons or some other creature?

— Andrew, Castro Valley

DEAR ANDREW: For once, those creatures aren’t on the top of my suspect list. I think the culprit might be a tomato hornworm.

The fearsome foursome are less likely to eat peppers, even sweet bells. But we have a lot of sphinx moths flying around the Bay Area this year, and because the moths start out as hornworms, it stands to reason, there is an abundance of the voracious plant eaters out there, too.

Although the tomato hornworm feeds on the leaves, stems and fruits of the tomato plant, they also have a taste for peppers. The damage you describe is also consistent with a caterpillar eating its way down the fruit.

The green hornworms are difficult to see, but you should do a close inspection of your plants. Even if the hornworms are masterfully disguised, you should be able to see their droppings, which are small, round and black, on the tops of leaves. Also look for other signs of damage, such as areas where it looks like someone has snipped off the tops of plants or blooms.

DEAR JOAN: We have a second home in the Sierra at about 3,500 feet. Recently a flock of about 12 fantail pigeons flew into our yard and landed on the branches of our dogwood tree.  The branches bent and bounced because of the weight of the pigeons. They’re big birds.

They proceeded to nibble at what are perhaps the buds for flowers that come in spring. I hope not. The trees are so pretty up here in the springtime with white and pink blossoms. I look forward to seeing them in the forest and our yard when we come up here in the spring.

Any thoughts?

— Maryke Williams, San Jose

DEAR MARYKE: I’m not sure what birds you saw – pigeons don’t come in fantail varieties – but I think they may have been band-tailed pigeons. They’re known to hang out in larger flocks. They are around the size of a crow, weighing about 12 ounces.

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