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

DR. JOAN: For decades, I’ve grown bell peppers in my garden. Until last week, I’d never had anything eat them.

They had all been nibbled on when I went to water and possibly harvest a couple of peppers. It appeared as if the critter had cut them from top to bottom and eaten the part that fell to the ground, as well as the insides of the half that was still hanging on the plant.

Was it rats, squirrels, opossums, raccoons, or some other creature that ate the peppers?

Andrew from Castro Valley

TO ANDREW: For the first time, those creatures aren’t at the top of my suspect list. I believe the culprit is a tomato hornworm.

The fearsome foursome is less likely to consume peppers, even sweet bell peppers. But there are a lot of sphinx moths flying around the Bay Area this year, and since the moths start out as hornworms, it stands to reason that there are also a lot of the voracious plant eaters.

Although the tomato hornworm feeds on the tomato plant’s leaves, stems, and fruits, it also enjoys peppers. The damage you describe fits with a caterpillar eating its way through the fruit.

The green hornworms are difficult to spot, but you should inspect your plants carefully. Even if the hornworms are well-hidden, their droppings, which are small, round, and black, should be visible on the tops of the leaves. Look for other signs of damage, such as areas where the tops of plants or blooms appear to have been snipped off.

DR. JOAN: We have a second home in the Sierra at an elevation of about 3,500 feet. A flock of about 12 fantail pigeons recently flew into our yard and perched on the branches of our dogwood tree. The weight of the pigeons caused the branches to bend and bounce. They’re massive birds.

They then nibbled on what appeared to be the buds for spring flowers. I sincerely hope not. The trees are so lovely in the spring, with their white and pink blossoms. When we come up here in the spring, I’m looking forward to seeing them in the forest and our yard.

What are your thoughts?

— San Jose resident Maryke Williams

Mountain dogwood can withstand some abuse, and there should be no buds on the trees at this time. However, after blooming, dogwoods produce small fruits, which could be what the birds were eating.

Update on Krane Pond campaign

Save Mount Diablo reports that in just two weeks, readers of this column have contributed $32,000 to the preservation of Krane Pond, an important wildlife habitat on Mt. Diablo. The charitable organization has now raised $336,226 of its $500,000 goal.

Donations can be mailed to Save Mount Diablo at 201 N. Civic Drive, Suite 190, Walnut Creek, CA 94596, or made online at Please specify that your donation is for Krane Pond.

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