Attack of the Killer Hornworm

I was looking through some older pictures on on PC tonight and ran across these from a few years ago when I had a small backyard garden with tomatoes, peppers, herbs and a few other vegetable plants. While the soil in my backyard wasn’t that good I did succeed in getting some nice tomato plants, as seen in this picture.

Tomato plant before the attack

All was well and it looked like we would have a harvest of fresh tomatoes for sandwiches and salsa, but then came the…

Attack of the Killer Hornworm!

When I left for work in the morning, everything looked fine in the garden, but, when I got home in the late afternoon my tomato plants looked like this.

Tomato plant after the attack

Soon I found the well camouflaged culprit, munching down a green tomato.

Hornworm on the attack, enjoying a green tomato

I yanked him off what was left of my tomato plant and placed him on a dustpan for closer examination and execution.

The Hornworm, moments before execution

Sorry the photos are a bit blurry. The camera I was using at the time couldn’t do close-ups very well.

What is a Hornworm?

In case you were wondering about these huge caterpillars, here are some facts about them.

The hornworm is a larval form of various hawk and sphinx moth species. They grow to a maximum of about 5 inches in length. As you can see from the photo, they have a voracious appetite and can easily defoliate a single plant in a day.

From what I can gather from various online resources, the one who ate my tomato plant was a Manduca sexta or Tobacco Hornworm which is the common variety in the Southeastern US where I live. Even though it’s referred to as a tobacco hornworm due to it’s innate immunity to nicotine, it will happily devour tomato plants as well.

Also from my research I found out that you can buy these large caterpillars live for reptile food or as a pet, if you want a short lived pet with a huge appetite that is. They’re also used in various biological research projects because their large size makes the easy to work with.

Hornworm Prevention

Because of widespread predation by parasitic wasps and other creatures and the ease of control with regular pesticides, the hornworms aren’t considered a threat to commercial farming. However, the home gardener might lose a plant or two to them before they discover it since it’s so hard to see.

The best way to prevent them is to thoroughly till the soil using a roto-tiller before planting. This should destroy virtually all larva hiding in the ground. Most broad spectrum pesticides will work as well against the eggs and just hatched larva. However, once they’ve reached full size they’re largely immune to normal doses. At this point, hand removal is the best way to deal with these pests.

I hope you found this information interesting. Do you grow a garden at your home? Have you encountered a hornworm? Leaf me a comment and let me hear from you.


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1 Comment »

2008-07-13 14:48:39

Wow, that’s one hungry hornworm … he really did a number on your tomato plant. And they grow to 5 inches? My wife’s the gardener in our family, and she’d keel over if she saw one of those guys.

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