Monday, July 17, 2006

Tomato Hornworm/ (Tabacco Hornworm)


Fee! Fi! Fo! Fum! Who is that eating all the leaves from my tomato plant?

Why it is none other than the tomato hornworm.* The tomato plant was being depleted of its leaves down to the stem. Lucky for me I spied this ravenous creature as I went to photograph some newly developing veggies. Even though they are the size of an index finger, they are so clever in their coloration and markings, they are hard to see. And yuck, it presented me with green goo when I tried to remove it from the stem on which it was napping. I repeat...YUCK!

The hornworm caterpillar is named after the magenta colored "horn" which is at the posterior end of this lovely creature.
*I misidentified this little fellow in my original post. Observant readers of my blog have indicated my error in their comments. I stand corrected and state that this little guy is actually a tabacco hornworm. Thank you faithful readers! :)


Watch this video with still photos and action video of the hornworm caterpillar.

45 comments:

Anthony said...

That thing is definitely gross and cool looking at the same time. I think that eating a garden grown tomato is worth a little green goo though. Good work.

Anonymous said...

Yuck! Even though I admire them for their ability at camofloge, I don't like them eating my tomatoes! I just went out in 115 degree heat to check on my soaker hose, and i saw the tale tell piles of droppings and defoliated stems! I'm going to have my 'attack' party when it gets a little cooler...

California Gardener in Zone 23 said...

These little guys have infiltrated my garden this year! I have pulled off many in the last week, sizes from tiny to huge. My sister suggested I put more bird feeders in the area to get them to help with the problem. It's a thought!

Anonymous said...

I love the video. I am not a particularly squemish woman, but I was so grossed out when I saw the worms that I asked my 'dude' neighbor to help me take them off the plant. He was too grossed out! Needless to say, I tried removing them with pliers, which was a nightmare. They can sure hold on for dear life. So I resorted to cutting off each branch with a worm, and putting them in a bag, conveniently, right before trash pickup. I also live in Southern California, San Diego to be exact, and wanted to let you know that seeing your blog gave me a great sense of relief!

California Gardener in Zone 23 said...

I have not had a problem with these critters in the past. But this year, I have found them numerous times. I have found cutting off the stem(usually there are not leaves left anyway) and then popping them into a zip lock baggie is an effective way to deal with them! I did read one article which said if the caterpillars have something on their back which looks like grains of rice, you should not kill it. These are actually beneficial wasps which kill the caterpillars by laying eggs in or on the caterpillars. I refer you to this web site:
http://www.gardensalive.com/article.asp?ai=772&bhcd2=1154127740



Anyway, thanks for stopping by.

Anonymous said...

Hi, I am in Rhode Island and have picked about 15 of them off so far. Am going outside with my coffee, early this morning, to look for more. They say that they eat at the top of the plants when it is cooler at dusk and dawn. I too have never seen anything like this before...I otherwise have a great crop going.

California Gardener in Zone 23 said...

These critters have even snacked on the tomatoes and my sunflowers! I'm glad your crop is okay. Thanks for the tip on dusk and dawn hornworm caterpillar hunting. LOL.

Anonymous said...

Yup, back in Rhode Island...found three more yesterday morning. Went out to the Farmers Market to get some advice and found that BASIL could be a deterrent. The only farmer there who had not seen a single hornworm this season had planted his Basil crop alongside the tomatoes. So, I came home and topped off about 30 four inch flowering basil stems and tucked them into my 4 tomato plants. Woke up this morning to no telltale droppings and ,as of yet, no hornworms.

J said...

Hi folks, I'm in Charlotte NC and woke up this morning to find six of these hornworms on my prize tomatoes. The amount of damage they did overnight is amazing. I was wondering if anyone has had any luck with dusting, or if the sugestion to use basil has worked. Thanks!

earlysnowdrop said...

I will state the obvious. You definitely want to hand pick the hornworms from the plants and eradicate them. I haven't tried other methods.

Stuart Allen said...

I found these little bastards in my tomato garden as well. In 1 day they managed to decimate a good 25% of the top foliage on 3 of my 4 plants.

I picked 11 off that I found and will continue to look for them. They are very hard to find as they have excellent coloring. FYI, the ones with red horns are actually called tobacco hornworms.

Anonymous said...

I am a first time gardener and found these things crawling on my tomatoes this am. Gross! I removed at least seven of them. I may be dilusional but I think I caught them before they did too much damage, but not too early as they had to have been all at least four inches long. And to think that I saw them as eggs on my plant early in the season (not knowing what they were) and just flicked them off (to surrounding tomato plants) Anywho-wanted to say your blog helped me a lot to know I'm not alone, Thanks again!

Anonymous said...

I thought tomato hormworms had a black horm. This picture is of a tobacco hormworm. They are very close but not the same. I live in North Carolina and have had lots of hormworms on my tomato plants and my in whole life, I don't think I have actually seen a hormworm with a black tail. I don't know if it makes a bit of difference since they do eat up your tomato plants.

Hobbs86047 said...

Hey! From the Badlands of AZ. Don't take it personal; I plant more tomato plants then I can harvest. I find the little critters and put them in a jar for my 10-year-old, He loves to keep them until they fly away. It keeps him busy.

Anonymous said...

:Hey Friend, I had a tomotoe hormworm eat my tomatoes and was extremely fasinated by them in my very small town house garden. I showed them to my 4 kids and none a decade later got a tattoo on my right shoulder explaining my life story.......the ugly caterpillar, coccoon or distructiona & transformation and a new creation. A moth or butterfly! My new life, 4 kids 7 2 grandgirls, love toeknee

Linda said...

Hey All -

These guys sure are ubiquitous! I'm in Maine, and the hornworms are a yearly phenomenon. Right about now they show up, and if I don't keep on top of them it's a disaster. I remove them by hand (using a kitchen tongs - the ones that look like scissors with loops at the end), collect them in a bowl and feed them to my ducks. They were puzzled about them at first, but once they figured out which end goes in first, they look forward to the special snack. Unfortunately, the ducks are unwilling to do the hunting and gathering themselves. I go out first thing in the morning, when it's still and quiet, and shake each plant a little to listen for the characteristic grinding noise the worms make when they're disturbed. Then the hunt is on! In this climate they don't seem to be a problem for more than a couple of weeks, but they sure can be devastating if left to their own devices.

Anonymous said...

My 3 year old and 5 year old girls are fascinated with these big caterpillars. Thanks for posting such a great picture and video of these voaracious (but in my daughters' opinion fascinating) pest.

Not that it makes much difference to fellow tomato gardeners, but the caterpillar on your plants is actually a tobacco hornworm, cousin to the tomato hornworm.

The best way to control them is just to pick them off. I've heard of squeamish gardners who didn't want to touch them using a piece of fine wire to impale the caterpillars. Stabbing them through a couple of times is said to cause mortal injury.

Both tomato hornworms and tobacco hornworms are most active at night. I check my plants early in the morning to guard against them. I've heard of gardeners who go out at night with their flashlights.

Again, thanks for the great images -- my daughters loved your post!

-- Luckydad in Albuquerque

earlysnowdrop said...

Thanks for your comment. I was made aware of my mistake in identifying this pesky creature. Just never changed it to the post. Maybe I will make note of it today.

One way I tell the presence of these little stinkers is the presence of their distinctive body waste. When I see the small pellets on leaves or the sidewalk, I know it is time to hunt for "big game!"

Anonymous said...

I am not afraid of bugs and have gardened as a hobby for years and never in my life have I been so yucked out. I still have the willies today after finding some 20+ of the nastoids (mine appear to all be the tobacco horn worm) devouring my tomato plants.

Pulling them off is the single grossest thing I have ever done in my life! UGH. Yes, they do pee or whatever at you and they hang on for dear life. There are no gloves thick enough to make this task easier.

Each yank off a branch resulted in a squeal of disgust from me. I have to go back out there today and hunt for more. Egad!

Anonymous said...

I live in South Orange County (California), and we just found them on one of our bushes -- they ate all the leaves in a matter of hours! I ended up spraying them with Raid -- hopefully, that works. Question: is the thorn dangerous? I'm wondering if it's safe to have my dog in the yard with those things.

earlysnowdrop said...

Since I am a little bit organic, I would encourage you to hand pick these guys off next time instead of using pesticides. If you watched the video, you know they don't want to let go. You can take some pruning shears and cut the stem on which you find them feasting and then through them in the garbage (I put them in a zip lock bag).

My understanding is that the "horn" is not for stinging.

Anonymous said...

Great posts...I did not understand all the droppings under my plants, I thought it weird that mice would be so interested? Then one evening as I'm picking fruit I move a branch and my hand is now slimey and green? To my horror I'm looking at this 4 inch monster with four brothers on other branches! By the time I'm finished picking, I count 32 "tobacco" and "tomato" worms on my 9 plants! My wife thinks I'm obsessed now that I'm "hunting" everyday after work but it keeps me and my kids entertained. Thanks for the video - now my friends don't have to keep imagining what I'm talking about (they don't garden).

Anonymous said...

hi all...doing some research on these pests and came across your blog. Thanks for all the great info. I live in Miami and have a vegetable garden...anyone else from the South can tell you that gardening vegetables in a place that's a cross between a Tropical forest and a Swamp tends to be BUG CENTRAL! Anyhow, this is one of the latest problems. I went out of town for two days and when I returned these worms had torn up three of my beautiful tomato plants (I have 14 currently in different stages) they must have been there for a while and I hadn't noticed them because by the time I did they were huge. I took down about twelve that day and it's been a week and everyday there are more to pick. A nuisance but my yummy tomatoes are worth it. The best advice is to just inspect your plants every day. If you've gotten to the stage where you notice a lot of droppings then you probably already have an infestation. Catching them early on is key. Happy Gardening :)

New Gardner 553 said...

Thanks for everyone's comments. We have planted our first vegatable garden and were suprised by the tomato hornworm infestation. A friend suggested planting Marigolds as a natural deterent. We did so two nights ago, but it may be a little late for us. Anyway, we continue to check the plants every evening, but after reading everyone's comments, we will add a morning check to our routine.

Anonymous said...

I live just north of Atlanta and discovered these nasty looking critters 3 or 4 years ago. I too "yucked" everytime I pulled one off. I use a small plastic baggie as a mitten and then drop the nasty thing into a larger bag.

In the last three days I've found at least a dozen on my five plants in my raised garden. I bought bags of dirt and compost to fill the garden. I was confident that they wouldn't find the garden, but they certainly did.

I'll start going out with a flashlight because they certainly are staying pretty well out of sight in our 95 degree heat.

I was looking for something to put on the plants but it appears that just pulling them off is most efficient. Has anybody tried "bacillus thuringiensis"?

Anonymous said...

I have marigolds and basil (green and purple) planted by my tomatoes and the hornworms don't appear to be the least discouraged. I will now try putting the basil leaves on the branches of the tomatoes.

Caroline said...

Thanks so much for your posts on this! I live in San Diego and just yesterday I was finding these weird droppings on my eggplant. As I removed them, I felt something squishy under one of the leaves which made me jump. I think it was a similar hornworm like you have found. It didn't give me the green ooze like yours did, but it had the reddish horn and what looked like a face on the other end. It also had what looked like a sac of eggs, but that might have been the parasitic wasp eggs. Well, I just flicked it over the fence into the alley, I guess I should go check and see if it came back or there are any more! Thanks for your description though, it really helped!

Tyler Durden said...

These were a problem for me last year, partly because I planted my tomatoes too close together. I just clipped the leaf cluster they were on and tossed them. I contemplated getting a chicken. Bird bath and bird feeders work well, sunset searches just staring at your plants one at a time works. It's sort of like a Where's Waldo they blend in so well. This year I'm having great success keeping them away in Long Beach, CA by an early application of Diatomaceous Earth to the dirt (avoid getting it on your flowers or leaves to prevent injury to helpful insects) and monthly waterings with a Tbsp of Neem Oil. Hand picking, though, works best.

Anonymous said...

My Mom (a gardener for 50+ years)gave me a recipe to spray on the tomatoes. I just sprayed mine yesterday, so I don't know if it really works. It is better than picking those green monsters off by hand. YUCK.
Mix a quart of water with a tablespoon of dish soap, 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil (olive oil, any kind of cooking oil will do) and 1 tablespoon of mouthwash. Spray on your plants.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the awesome informative article. I've enjoyed reading everyone else's contributions, too. One of my favorite things to do in the morning is to sit out on my deck with a fine cup of coffee and marvel over the morning sounds from the birds. I have (or I should say "had") a lovely tomatoe plant on the deck in a huge pot. I've enjoyed plenty of tomatoes thus far and was awaiting for the next 'crop' to come in. It was loaded with small green tomatoes with promises to have a plentiful second crop. Yesterday morning, I did my usual sitting out drinking my coffee and noticed to my horror!!! all the leaves missing on the top of my beauty tomatoe plant and on closer examination SEVEN of these beastly little creeps!! Not knowing what they were, and afraid of the horn thing protruding out of it and afraid it would try to sting me, I put on my trusty kitchen gloves and picked all of them off & dropped each one into a coffee can full of water to quickly drown these scoundrels!!! Everyone I've asked couldn't tell me where they come from. Thanks for this article 'cuz it surely explains a lot! Oh, and the rubber gloves prevents these little beasts from peeing or regergitating their green goo on your bare hands. I'm happy to learn that they wouldn't 'sting' me or bite me. (Phew!) Oh, and I watched them drown and noticed air bubbles coming out of the little areas that look like eyes all along the sides of their bodies. ... Almost like they were gills. And all look like they were blinking while drowning!! The little varmits also ate my green tomatoes. Unfortunately there will be no red ones because of this!!!

Anonymous said...

I found one of these hornworms on my favorite tomato plant and smashed him into the soil. Now my tomato plant is eating you!!!

Plainfield Real Estate Chic said...

We found two of these in our garden this morning, and I was was thoroughly grossed out! My kids found them fascinating though. I guess they can be interesting once you get past the ick factor.

Thankfully my neighbors daughter is a bit of a tomboy and she did all of the removal from my plants for me. My own daughter wouldn't have touched them with a 10 ft pole! Me neither!!!

earlysnowdrop said...

You can see the "10-foot pole was what I was willing to touch him with!" Ick!

CHARLIE said...

I LIVE IN TEXAS AND WE HAVE A PROBLEM WITH THESE ALSO. THEY ALSO LIKE DILL WEED. THEY CAN DESTROY DILL OVERNIGHT.I HAVE HELD ONE JUST TO LOOK AT IT CLOSELY AND I SWEAR IT WAS TRYING IT BEST TO BIT. FELT A LITTLE STING..AGITATED I GUESS. WE JUST PULL THEM OFF AND DESTORY THEM.

hdatus said...

9.30.08 - Wow! Thanks for the great pics! I found 3 of these on our tomato plants yesterday; had no idea what in the world they could be, just knew they were creepy looking! I, too, was attacked with green 'barf'. My Mom told me to smush them, YUCK! I put them in a dish for my daughters to see. Today I'm driving my 4th grader to school with them in a jar to share with her class. The things we do for our children! I live in Cameron Park, CA (near Sacramento) & had not seen these guys before. Thanks, again, for the pics & info.!

earlysnowdrop said...

These green guys will be a hit at school. You are a good parent!

Ft. Lauderdale Fl. said...

Thanks for the info. Just last week I was horrified to find little "bird droppings with a head" on my Navel Orange plant. After putting Sevin dust on the tree, I did my research. Much to my despair, I realized that I had terminated at least 10 Giant Swallowtail Larvas. When I saw these weird green creatures on my tomato plant I deceided to RESEARCH first! These little soon to be moths are just not my cup of tea.

Anonymous said...

Sevin dust? Poisons? That stuff, as you noticed, kills beneficial insects too. It can hurt everyone -- birds, animals, us. It gets into the water table and eventually you're going to drink it yourself. Don't use poisons, please -- for your kids and their kids.

Try to find someone with ducks or chickens (try Craigslist) and give the worms to them. YUMMY

Anonymous said...

Another easy way to remove the fatty hornworms (although its gross) is with a pair of sharp pointy scissors. Yeah you know it...sneak of on a worm and cut it. You dont need to cut it much. Its easier because they just seem like water balloons, they spill out their contents instantly and you dont need to cut them all the way in half... just aim for the middle and cut about a 1/3 inch hole on the side. Gush..and they hang... deflated and quite dead. the guts dont hurt anything anf the worm will eventually just drop off adding more goodies for the soil. Try it...Hornworms fear me!

Anonymous said...

I just give them a good "flik" with my finger and that does them in. The ants usualy clean the carcass's up

Anonymous said...

My honey puts them in a zip lock bag and then she squashes them barefoot. They pop like grapes.

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earlysnowdrop said...

@ Logo Design--Thanks for the compliment. :)

Anonymous said...

I had three of the healthiest tomato plants I'd ever grown (two green zebras and one indigo blue) totally decimated, and the manager at my local garden store said these guys did it. (They said they have an environmentally-safe spray for them and other pests.) Our plants are in planter boxes on the second deck. She said they can climb. And not only were the tomatoes ruined, the main stems which were about 3/4" diameter, were sawed off in long shreds. It was like the plants were whittled away, and there were l" to 2" long shreds of stem left under the plants. I was sure it was rats. Could these hornworms really be the culprits? Where do they go when they're not destroying our plants?

earlysnowdrop said...

Yes, they can destroy a plant overnight. Once you have had it happen, you learn to look for the signs that they are on your plants. Their droppings (poop) are very distinctive. When they first infiltrate your tomato plant, you might see a few droppings on the leaves of your plants. If you see one (!) scout out the culprit and detach/destroy the critter. You will not believe how good they are at camouflage. They are colored in such a way that you will mistake them for a leaf which looks slightly rolled up. If you catch them early, you can prevent them from completely destroying your plant.

If the hornworm caterpillar looks like it is wearing rice, be aware that these are beneficial insects which destroy the hornworm caterpillar. You do not want to destroy if these are present. http://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/galveston/beneficials/beneficial-04_braconid_wasp_on_hornworm.htm

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