Big, fat, and green! Here are tips on how to identify, control, and get rid of tomato hornworms in your garden.
What Are Hornworms?
If you’ve ever grown tomatoes, chances are good that you’ve dealt with these green caterpillar pests. There are two main garden pest species, tomato hornworms and tobacco hornworms, which can be found in most regions of the U.S. and in southern Canada. Both species can ruin your tomato crop in record time! They also feed on other plants in the Solanaceae (nightshade) family: eggplants, peppers, tobacco, and potatoes. They blend in quite easily with the green foliage and feed non-stop, creating spotty and chewed leaves and fruit.
Tomato (and tobacco) hornworms live according to the following life cycle:
- In late spring, large adult moths lay eggs on the undersides of foliage, which will hatch within a week. The adult moths are easily recognizable; they’re commonly called sphinx or hummingbird moths.
- Caterpillar larvae will hatch in late spring and feed for 4–6 weeks before creating a cocoon, overwintering in their pupal state in the soil. If the weather is warm enough, larvae may only burrow for as little as 2–3 weeks.
- Moths will emerge in the spring, and will then lay eggs once again. More than one generation a year may be possible in warmer climates.
Tomato hornworm moth (female). Look out for the moths in late spring. Photo by Didier Descouens/Wikimedia Commons.