Tomato Horn Worm

Posted by on June 8, 2009 at 8:24 pm.
Tomato Horn Worm

Tomato Horn Worm

Check out this big guy!  He is a tomato hornworm or the caterpillar phase of the Hummingbird Moth, which are way cool when you see them.  They really do look like (and as big as) a hummingbird.  It is in the Order Lepidoptera, family Sphingidae,  genus and species Manduca sexta.  This guy was about 2 1/2 inches, but they can get as big as four inches.  I suspect that he had quite a bit more growing to do.  And now I know what has been happening to my tomato seedlings.  Luckily, they were volunteers that I had dug up and not yet found a home for.

The Tomato Hornworm loves tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant, green peppers… basically anything in the nightshade plant family.  The moths sip nectar and very important in the polination of night blooming flowers.  They are also quite a site to behold, but the catterpilar can lay waste to a tomato plant in no time.  I’m ahead of the game, though.  I have so many tomatoes planted that there is no way he can eat them all!  If you can, try to dedicate one plant to them in a covered tent just to see the moth.

Beefmaster Tomato

Beefmaster Tomato

If you just can’t live with him, you can kill the poor thing by introducing parasitic wasps or letting the birds at him.  Braconid wasps, Trichogamma wasps, skunks, birds and lizards all love to dine on him.  You can also spray with BT (Bacillus thuringiensis) which is a bacteria that infects the caterpillar, but it is easier to just pick them off by hand.  there is usually only one or two around.

I think they are fun!  Besides… I have plenty of tomatoes, if they will only ripen.

-- Weather When Posted --

  • Temperature: 88°F;
  • Humidity: 39%;
  • Heat Index: 88°F;
  • Wind Chill: 88°F;
  • Pressure: 29.82 in.;



  • Lisa says:

    I know I have at least one in my tomato patch, but I can’t find it. He got my first ripe roma just hours before I was going to pick it! At least now I know what I’m looking for. Thanks for the pic.

    And the waiting for the ripening—it’s truly killing me. All my tomatoes are heavy with green fruit that refuses to blush.

  • Regina says:

    If something is eating the fruit, I would suspect birds or raccoons. The Tomato Hornworm will kill a plant by eating it to the ground, but it is the leaves they like.

    My tomatoes are having the same problem. I think it has something to do with the inconsistency of the temperatures. There are a lot of green tomatoes but very few ripening. I have gotten half a dozen cherry tomatoes and I saw two yellow pear tomatoes yesterday that should be ready to pick today, but out of about 20 tomato plants that’s been it so far.

  • Bunnie says:

    I just removed 15 of these little %#*&@ blankety blankety suckers from my three heirloom plants! FIFTEEN! They eat the leaf life similar to the way you eat corn off the cob. Very fast…celan…and very gone!

    FYI: The post about not eating fruit may not be accurate. I took all 15 of these guys placed them on garbage can lid in the sun for the birds to find. I also placed four damaged green tomatoes in the lid. Have gone back periodically to check their demise…and several are consuming the already gnawed on tomatoes. So…they WILl eat the fruit! I assume the odd damage on my tomatoes is indeed from them!

    The hardest trick is seeing them on your vines. They are sloth like. Don’t move fast…and are the same color are your plant. You have to get real still, and stay focused on what your eyes are seeing. And then VIOLA! Your efforts will be rewarded when you see one! Usually hanging underneath the leaf or limb protected from the sun rays.

    Here is my experience. The leaves are missing. The stalk, trunk or limb is all that remains…there are black poop droppings on some leaves…these are all the signs of the ellusive HornWorm. If you see any of these…get out your patience and hunt them down!

    Hope that helps any future readers!

  • Regina says:

    Thanks so much for the input, Bunnie! You are right! They are tricky little devils and camouflage themselves very well. They are well worth hunting down and destroying.

  • Bunnie says:


    How are your cherry tomatoes? Did you get to eat them yet? Those horm worms completely consumed my red pepper plants. I didn’t catch them in time.

    And my first harvest of tomatoes….35 of them including one 2 pound cherokee purple were all “raptured”. It had to be the culprit you suggested in your first post…the racoon. I found the remants of only red pepper I got to see grow, under a large oak tree, about 100 feet one from my garden. A week later…I caught a racoon scaling up the very same tree. I cried when I lost all that produce. 35 heirlooms…gone in an instant. He really got a work out that night! I believe that they are very wise…waiting until almost harvest day…then they take the fruit. This time…I am picking before blush…well, some of them anyway. I have to taste at least one. ANy suggestions on preventing racoon produce raptures?

    Does anyone know of anyother hornworm product other than BT powder? I learned it only kills them doesn’t prevent them from attacking. I also covet my thai long green eggplant…plant…and if they hit that one…I am using a flame thrower to abate them!

  • Terri says:

    I found 2 fat ones on one of my bell pepper plants. I told my boyfriend they were worms and he said no they are part of the plant! He touched it and it scared him to death and he screamed like a girl! It was so funny. We removed them. I also see droppings on my cherry tomato plan but I cannot find any worms. I cut some damaged stems off this weekend before I realized I had any worms at all, so I am hoping I got them!

    I did read somewhere that tilling up the soil at the base of the plan will kill the larvae. Not sure if it works but I gave it a try.

  • Regina says:

    Another thing you can do, if the soil around the plant is not too wet, is to sprinkle diatomaceous earth around the plants. You need the garden grade, NOT pool grade DE.

    To us, DE feels like a soft powder, but to caterpillars it is like glass. They crawl across it and get cut up and then they bleed out. The only bad thing about that is that DE will kill good bugs as well as bad, but if your infestation is really bad, it can be worth it.

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