Tomato Hornworm

Tomato hornworms (Manduca quinquemaculata) and closely related tobacco hornworms (M. sexta) are both called tomato hornworms when found in vegetable gardens

Tomato hornworm caterpillar
Tomato hornworm caterpillar [Credit: Scot Nelson ]
Tomato hornworm caterpillar [Credit: Scot Nelson ]
Tomato hornworm parasitized by braconid wasps
Tomato hornworm parasitized by braconid wasps
Tomato hornworm parasitized by braconid wasps
Tomato hornworm moth
Tomato hornworm moth [Credit: Ilisa ]
Tomato hornworm moth [Credit: Ilisa ]


Host Plants:

On Crops: Tomatoes, peppers, tobacco

Where Found:

Temperate climates worldwide where tomatoes or tobacco are grown. In the US, tomato hornworms are more common in the north, and tobacco hornworms are more common in the south.

Description:

Tomato hornworms are green caterpillars the exact shade of tomato leaves, with white diagonal stripes on their sides and a fleshy pointed tip at their tails. When tomato leaves are mysteriously missing, following trails of pebbly, dark green excrement will lead you to the hornworms. Young hornworms are tiny green caterpillars, but they gradually grow to 4 inches (10 cm) long. Tomato hornworms are the larvae of a mottled brown hawk moth that flies at night.

Damage:

Tomato hornworms weaken plants by removing foliage, and in some cases they chew holes in fruits. The adult moths typically lay several eggs on a plant, and the combined feeding by multiple hornworms can remove so much foliage that the fruits become susceptible to sunscald.

Preventing Problems:

Tomato hornworms overwinter as pupae in the soil near tomato plants, and fall cultivation will kill most of them. Yet moths can easily fly into the garden from other areas, so check plants often for missing leaves starting in early summer.

Managing Outbreaks:

Gather hornworms by hand and dispose of them in the compost. Once they are removed from their host plants, hornworms quickly die. Hornworms cannot bite or sting. In severe cases, application of a Bt-based biological insecticide will quickly bring hornworms under control.

Tips:

If you encounter a tomato hornworm with elongated white cocoons attached to its body, these are evidence of braconid wasps – tiny beneficial insects that lay their eggs on hornworms.

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