Thursday, August 11, 2011

Wildlife Feature: The Hornworm---They're BACK!

I was really hoping that I would not have to write a post to tell you about this little pest. Because, I really hoped that we wouldn't find any in the garden this year! But, they're back, at least a few...The Hornworm.

Tomato Hornworm droppings
 I was strolling through the second garden one evening, and much to my dismay, found that one of the Salsa tomato plants had been severely munched on. Several branches had be stripped of all leaves, so I had a feeling that I knew what had happened.  A closer look at the plant confirmed my suspicion, when I found these droppings (rather large droppings for a caterpillar type thing I think!)  Then began my search for the disgusting creature.  I think it took close to 15 minutes for me to locate him on my tomato plant.  And for a moment (a short moment--right before I smashed it) I was sort of in awe at this creature, and once again thought of THE AWESOME CREATOR that made it!

click on this photo to see it larger
and check out the decoy eyes
 courtesy of 
When I see things like this Hornworm, I recall a children's radio program, that was on for years on our local Christian Radio station when I was young. I can't think of the program name just now, but the man's name is Bob Devine, and his character was called "Uncle Bob"  Well, the gist of the program was that Uncle Bob hosted interviews with all kinds of various animals, bugs, etc.  discussing all the unique, and marvelous things about each one, and ALWAYS giving the GLORY to God their great Creator!  I can still hear in my mind some of the voices that he did for the animal characters... and imagine this giant green worm in my garden with one of those funny little voices saying something like ...."Well you see God my great Creator, made me just the perfect color to blend in with the stem of the tomato plant. And He made me with all these spots that look like eyes all down the sides of my body too fool predators that might want to eat me...."

OK, OK, so I am not really crazy like you are all thinking right now!

Last year we were infested with them, and the only thing to do was to pick them off the plants and mash them, and hope that you got them all.  You see they are so devastating because this fat boy (or girl?) will ruin an entire tomato plant (leaves and green tomatoes as well) practically over night! They are so gross to find on the plants growing the food YOU are supposed to eat! And killing them gives me the hee-bee-gee-bees equally as much as finding them in the first place!  This year I thought sure I was covered because I broke down and sprayed the entire garden with insecticide twice because I had so much to lose this year!  The insecticide and a lot of prayer may be the reason I have only found a few of these guys in the last couple of days rather than the dozens and dozens of last year.
This one was as nearly as big
 as my index finger
courtesy of

These green worms are the larvae stage of the Hawk Moth or Sphinx Moth, known also as the Hummingbird Moth.  The moths lay eggs on the underside of the leaves and after hatching in about 5 days, the larvae spend 4 weeks chowing down on the host plant, growing to around 4 inches long before going into the soil to pupate.  Tomato Hornworm and Tobacco Hornworm are closely related and often confused, differentiated by slight difference in angle of the white lines and the color of their horn. Tomato Hornworms have 8 white V shaped lines and black horns, while Tobacco Hornworms have 7 diagonal white lines and red horns.  Oh, and the horn is on the back end of the worm.  Both types can be found devouring all varieties of the Solanaceae family including tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, eggplant, and tobacco.

The best way to save your plants is to search for the worm, pick them off of the plant, and squish them. Alternately, though I have not tried it, is to toss them into a bucket of soapy water to kill them instead.  One tip I learned to help locate the hard to spot worms on the plants, is to spray water on the plant with a spray bottle or hose, which will cause the worm to wriggle. Another tip is that you can supposedly use a blacklight at night to make them glow and stand out from their hiding places (but I have not yet tried this experiement). Also planting Marigold flowers in the area is supposed to diminish the Hornworm population. 

It is suggested that if you find a Hornworm with little white casts all over it, to leave it be, not dispose of it....the white sacs are the parasitic eggs of a Braconid Wasp, and once the eggs hatch the worm will be used as food for the wasps, and die, giving life to a bunch more wasps to help further control even more pests.  It is very hard for me to just leave the worm, eggs and all on my tomato plant though, and last year I tried removing the leaf branch to which the worm was clinging, and moving the whole thing to a different location away from my tomatoes!

As creepy, yet interesting and uniquely designed, as these things are....I still don't want them in my garden...They look like they better belong in an Alice in Wonderland picture book or something instead!

Special thanks to for allowing me to borrow a few pictures from his creature post last summer.


  1. Creepy things, I thought one of those pics looked familiar. So if they are humming bird moths is it because they are as big as a humming bird or do humming birds keep them away, maybe putting my humming bird feeder next to the garden was a good idea. Also, I have a question fir getaway garden guru. Non of my hot peppers are hot. I thought not watering them would do the trick but they still are not hot. My salsa is still delicious but I would like to grow hot peppers. Any thoughts?

  2. Good questions!

    I read the Hummingbird Moth is seen on clear, sunny days, whereas most moths are flying about at night and many people do confuse it with hummingbirds because of its coloration and how it moves.

    I am not sure about the peppers just now, I will check in a few info sources I have and see if I can find out anything. Are your red cayenne peppers hot? and just the banana peppers are lacking heat? Oh and jalepenos? They aren't hot either? weird, if none are. I will definitely will look in to that and get back to you.