Controlling Garden Pests Naturally and Organically

Tomato Horn Worms

Tomato Hornworms are the larva of a huge moth called five-spotted hawkmoth. Approximate size of the moth is around the size of a hummingbird so you can’t miss them. The hawkmoth is gray-brown with yellow spots on the sides of their body.

horn-worm2_1.jpg hornworm_hawkmoth_1.jpg
Tomato Hornworm-(left) Colorado State University, Five-spotted hawkmoth (right)-Floridagardening.com

The hornworm caterpillars are pretty small at first and hard to see because of their pale green color, but they become huge – 3 1/2 to 4 inches (7-10cm) in 3-4 weeks. You can’t miss them then! They are green-brown colour with v-shaped markings on the body and unmistakable ‘horns’. Hornworm eggs are green and are laid on the underside of leaves.

Tomato Hornworm Pupa (Cocoon) hornwormegg_1.jpg
Hornworm Pupa (cocoon), Hornworm Egg (right)-Colorado State University

Hornworm Lifecycle
The five-spotted hawkmoths lay their eggs as soon as they mate after hatching. They appear in late June to August. Full grown larva (3-4 weeks feeding) wander around the garden digging themselves in where they form a pupa (brown and about 3cm long) that overwinters and hatches in the spring.

hornworm4_1.jpg
Hornworm Damage-Floridagardening.com

Hornworm Damage
Tomato Hornworms feed on leaves and stems of tomato plants. Ocassionally they will also eat the fruits later in the summer months. They also feed on peppers, eggplant and potatoes. They can defoliate a plant in just a few days. There can be two generations of tomato hornworms every year. A bunch of them can spell disaster in your garden!

How To Control Tomato Hornworms

  1. Use a liquid Bt spray like Green Step™ Caterpillar Control-
    Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) does not harm animals, people or the environment. It paralyzes the horn worms and they die from starvation. Spray the top and bottom of the tomato plant leaves. Repeat every 5 to 7 days until you don’t see anymore worms. Bt is safe to use right up to the time of picking your tomatoes.
  2. Another all-natural environmentally friendly pesticide that is safe for use around kids and pets is Plant Guardian™ Houseplant Insecticidal Soap-
    Spraying the undersides of the leaves with an insecticidal soap mixture kills the eggs at the first sign of seeing the moths. A hard spray of water will also help if your plants are strong enough. Wiping the eggs off with alcohol on a q-tip is also effective.
  3. Introduce Parasitic Wasps into your garden-
    Parasitc Wasps (Braconid and Trichogramma) lay their eggs on the larva. If you see little white things on the worm don’t kill the worm, place it in a jar with a fresh leaf and keep feeding it until the wasps do their job. These are the cocoons of the wasp and their larva feed inside the host and will kill it. This guy below has just met his maker!
    hornworm3_1.jpg hornworm5.jpg
    Hornworm with parasite eggs (left)-Joe Boggs, Braconid Wasp (right)-Perdue University
  4. Hand Pick
    Tomato Hornworms are so big you cannot miss these guys. If you don’t want to touch them I recommend cutting them in half with the kitchen scissors. In the fall when you turn your garden pick out any pupae (cocoons) you might find and destroy them.
  5. Companion Planting
    Plant marigolds as a deterrent around or between your tomatoes. Marigolds stink to a lot of different bugs and they avoid them.

512 Responses to “Tomato Horn Worms”

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  1. 500
    Gary Says:

    Found only two recently. Both were about 2″ long but, one was covered with white eggs! Disposed of them and ….. none since. My guess is getting ride of the ones carrying the eggs helps to eliminate the evil tomato lovers.

  2. 499
    Committing Green-Mass Murder « Vermont Farm Heart Says:

    [...] spent my Sunday morning committing mass murder – a bloody green massacre in my garden. Green tomato horn worms had decided to descend upon my just ripening tomatoes. Now, I am not above sharing the bounty, but [...]

  3. 498
    Rene Says:

    Those little white things are called trichogramma wasp eggs. I just found one now. Really ugly things. Going to get some spray.

  4. 497
    gena Says:

    I use to BUY these worms at the reptile store when i could get them and fed them to my bearded dragon lizard. If you have a pet store nearby you may be able to cash in on those suckers!!

  5. 496
    Debb Says:

    I was fascinated by them at first….oddly..after years of growing tomatoes….this is the first time I have encountered them..but man..they do so much damage..destroyed my entire beefstake plant..picked off about 6 so far..just throw them in the grass for the birds…but might try to grow one into a moth now that I know what they become….good site..glad I found it..thnx…

  6. 495
    chris Says:

    I just scraped off 8 big ass worms and put them out in a pile of bird seed . Bon apetite birdies .

  7. 494
    deb Says:

    gezz, I thought a grasshopper was eating my leaves , went back the next day and the whole pepper plant leaves were stripped clean, the big buggers even took big bites out of some of the peppers.Looked at my cherry tomato plant which was doing incredible, and noticed ALL the top of the plant the leaves were being stripped off it. I did locate 3 worms ( UGLY ) and removed them. will look to see if I can locate any of the pupa. Thank everyone for all the information and also this very informative web page. Thank-you.

  8. 493
    Great Gazoo Says:

    A family member told us that corn starch sprinkled on the plants will run these suckers off. We tried it on our tomato plants and it worked great. Did not think about them getting the pepper plants but came home tonight and discovered all our pepper plants stripped of leaves and found only 1 worm on the last plant. Sucker got squished. Re-treated the tomato plants just to be safe.

  9. 492
    Elijah Says:

    A simple and humane solution is to pick them off and place them in an old jar, or whatever you have around and place them in the freezer, this is a method of humane euthanasia. Once they are frozen, throw them to the birds or in the garbage or whatever makes sense for you.

  10. 491
    joe Says:

    I hate those things.

  11. 490
    Mungo Says:

    BT , a non toxic bacteria is good to deal with the larvae. It makes them feel full so they stop eating. Azatrol is a natural product from neem oil that works in multiple ways against multiple vile insects.

    Apply either or both as soon as you plant tomatoes and then weekly. Don’t wait until you see a caterpillar.

  12. 489
    The Bitten Says:

    Hi,People.My friend and I saw two of these little suckers on my tomatoes after find it destroyed one plant.My friend poked it with her finger and it bit her.Then She poked it with a stick and it litteraly attacked the stick.It made us so mad that we got them on the ground and squished them until they DIED.teehee

  13. 488
    Karen Says:

    the moths are beautiful what I do is soon as I see droppings or start to notice I go around and pic them with the leaf they are on! they sometimes will die within a day or so but being the insane person I am I remove the non producing stems and leaves of my tomato plants and put it all in a bucket and feed them. if you are trying to conserve water this is good idea as the non flowering stems will need to be reduced anyway, then I move them somewhere else. I think it is worth it because the giant moths are beautiful! I like the comment on planting the moon flowers so the tom worms leave them alone will try that!! the white powdery things are probably aphids and believe it or not ants herd and milk them! but they are a disaster!

  14. 487
    Gardner Says:

    They make great fish bait! One day and 3 entire branches were eaten off. :p … The bright side is that fish taste good. ;-)

  15. 486
    Hunter Says:

    Frankly, these bugs disgust me. I’ve found two on my tomato plant, which they totally destroyed. They were almost parallel to each other on the same little branch, but I didn’t notice them right away. And I found another one, more recently, on one of my bell pepper plants, eating my big bell pepper. Needless to say I was pissed.
    Both times these monsters were killed. Pried off of the plant with a stick and then smashed with said stick. And then I found another bug, a normal, smaller caterpillar that was very fuzzy, eating my strawberries. That one died too. I cannot stand bugs being in my garden. I swear they’re out to get me though.

  16. 485
    Abigail Says:

    Dear people I am 13 and amused by the argument and I’m sure many other people are too. But there is a time when all fun things have to come to an end. To Sami I do think it is a bit rude of you to insult Renee as you did you can do whatever you want to with them. I however, am keeping mine as a pet until it metamorphosises 😊. Although I do not have any tomatoes so I guess I don’t know the pains of having tomatoes. I found it on some tree in my backyard. I am not exactly sure how it got there I live in the city and there isn’t a farm with tomatoes for miles around so if anyone has any ideas how it got here please tell. Laters!

  17. 484
    First Tomatoes and the Wrath of the Hornworm « Librarian Greens Says:

    [...] found out these are fondly known as tomato hornworms. These can destroy our tomato plants, so yesterday we sprayed them with a Bt spray and are keeping [...]

  18. 483
    DP Says:

    My veggie garden is on the side of the house and so far worm-free. However, my flowers in the front yard are being eaten alive by these little green worms. I had no idea they ate such a variety of plants. One or two years ago, I found a worm on a basil plant (which was also away from my garden), but thought it was a fluke. Now I know it wasn’t. I have a nice bright variety of petunias, and they are eating both the leaves and the petals. Of course they blend in beautifully, but I intend to pick them off when I see them to preserve the color. If I find too many more, I may use one of the remedies mentioned.

  19. 482
    wolfinator Says:

    I can identify with the destruction that these creatures can cause. Last year (2011) my boyfriend and I planted about 40 tomatoe plants of various varieties along with several dozen pepper plants and other plants and all our tomatoes and peppers were destroyed by these bugs. By the time we found them, it was too late and we lost 80% of our crop. We even had used Sevin dust to protect the plants but it didn’t work. It was bad enough that on top of that the rest of our crops didn’t do too well either like many others in our area. Everyone in our area complained of poor yielding crops aside from the plant munching bugs. Hopefully this year will be kind to us and will yield us bountiful crops. We not only feed ourselves, but try to grow enough to give to others in our family, neighborhood and friends as well with our crops.

  20. 481
    Parlay Oda Says:

    We found 4 of these giants amoung our dozen or so tomato plants. I hope we discovered them soon enough that the foliage can recover. Our’s are the tobacco variety with the straight white lines and are without the wasp parasites. I have isolated them with trimmings to estimate their verocious appetite.

  21. 480
    Sami Says:

    I agree with “HomeinAz”… if any of the destructive Horn Worms get away, so be it. But I too, will make sure the birds have good meals of the ones I catch. Now… this year I’m trying something new to prevent the destruction the worms cause. I tilled the soil in my small garden, by hand and got rid of all the cocoons that I found. Then, I covered the garden bed with weed cloth, and mulch. It serves two purposes. 1. Any cocoons left behind, are trapped and can’t get out to eat my plants. 2. The cloth and mulch helps to keep the soil moist and I don’t have to water but once a week. When I planted, I just cut a hole for the plants. As my plants grow and time passes, I’ll see if my solution actually works. Wish me Luck!

  22. 479
    HomeinAz Says:

    Hiya folks! I just want to share my experience from last years growing season in 2011. I planted a little late, but my tomato plants did AMAZING…that is EXCEPT for the destruction left by these adorable Tomato Worms. Also they did a fine job of eating and destroying many tomatoes that would have otherwise been beautiful and I’m sure…delicious! I had countless tomato worms and with my modest garden, I was really distraught over it.
    So my theory is, if a few get by me and live, so be it…but I’m going to do everything in my power to make sure any tomato worm caterpiller is bird food. Thanks for listening.

  23. 478
    Rose Says:

    I agree with you Blair. I really dont have a problem with them either. They do eat plants other than tomatos. I know. They love my moon flowers. Plant moon flowers near your tomatos. The moon flower I have is the bush type. The flower blooms at night. and it looks like a giant Moring glory. When it gets its seeds, the seed pod is prickley. Last year I had the tomatos next to the moon flower, and the worm left the tomato plants alone.

  24. 477
    mary Says:

    These little pests totally devoured my ghost chili plants (very hard to get) nothing left but the stems and they did it overnight.I am afraid they can not stay in my little garden , i will be at Home Depot in am getting some spray.

  25. 476
    Blair Says:

    I gotta say I’m with Elanor. We also have a small plot of land like Sami and only grow about 4 tomato plants a year. Every year we find a couple of these pupae in the soil when getting the beds prepped and I just leave them there. I’ve never had an issue with them “destroying” the crop. Maybe eating a bit of the plant but it’s never affected the harvest. That’s just my experience though. Perhaps it was not your intention, Sami, but you did come across as a bit hostile and condescending. To each his own, right? If Elanor wants to simply move the worms rather than kill them and that works for her, then who cares? It’s your choice to kill them if you want also. That doesn’t make Elanor stupid if she chooses to spare them. I leave them on my plants altogether. Who cares? It works for me.

  26. 475
    Sami Says:

    Thanks, Gene… I’m glad to hear that I’m not the only one who is more interested in growing my food for my family, than feeding Pesty Horn Worms!

    This year, I dug up all the “Pre-worm” pods I could find, and so far… I haven’t seen any of the Pesty Critters. I planted “Bush Goliath” tomatoes this year and 14 days after planting, I have 4 clusters of blooms. Wow! I’ve never seen tomatoes bloom this fast. Sure hope the tomatoes come on through. :)

  27. 474
    Gene Says:

    I am with sammi I work my but off harrowing,spreading organic fertilizer tilling planting hoeing weeds praying for rain and darn if i am willing to share it with bugs and even deer I do not mind feeding hay to the deerin winter wich they eat with my horses however i do get upset when i plant my con and they promply eat the new plants as soon as they emerge every bug i see and worm i pick goes into my little cup of Acetone that extinguishes immediately .

  28. 473
    Laura Says:

    Thanks for all the pics. I always pick the hornworms off of my tomatoes, but usually only after they are big enough that they can’t be missed. Now that I know to look for the castings, it’s much easier to locate the caterpillars before they do too much damage. I sometimes keep one and feed it until it pupates and the moth emerges, so my grandkids can see them. This year, I’m trying to prevent them from hatching by destroying the eggs, so your pics of the egg was very helpful. Of course, it won’t be long until my tomato plants will be too big to check every leaf every day. The worms are getting an early start this year and will probably have at least four hatchings. I’ve read that they will have two hatchings each year, but here in the SE US, I’m pretty sure they normally have three hatchings. I usually am picking them off my tomatoes right up until late October or early November. This week, I have found over two dozen eggs and a couple of newly hatched caterpillars already.

  29. 472
    ROSE Says:

    You are very welcome Eleanor, I hope it helps.

  30. 471
    Eleanor Says:

    That’s great Rose. Thank you for the excellent info.

  31. 470
    Rose Says:

    I am going to say this again this year. Four 3 years I had tomato plants, I did not have any trouble with the horn worm. WHY??????
    I also have moon flower plants, The worm loves the moon flower plants. I even had the tomato plants next to the moon flowers, And the worm left the tomato plants alone. Get some moon flower plants and maybe the worm will leave your tomato plants alone.

  32. 469
    eleanor Says:

    Look I came on here and posted a nice comment to no one in particular. It is in no way rude or angry or mean. That is where sami comes in. I’m not angry or fighting with anyone. I find it amazing that this Sami attacked me and made comments that were not nice I’m am not here to upset anyone. I simply made a nice comment and was attacked. Maybe Sami should be removed since all her or his comments are rude and combative.

  33. 468
    Jenkinscabin Says:

    Please Sami and Eleanor, please stop fighting over a public forum.

  34. 467
    Sam Says:

    Elenore…
    I’m very sorry you took my concern for my family, as anger! You must have anger issues yourself. Not all of us are fortunate enough to be living on 17 acres with lots of space to grow lots of vegetables. Some of us have limited space in which to grow our garden, and we can’t afford to have destructive little critters eating them. When you only have 3 tomato plants and the horn worms eat 2 of them, well… you do the math! If you want these destructive bugs to be relocated, feel free to come to Florida, get them and take them to your garden. HAVE A NICE DAY!

  35. 466
    Eleanor Says:

    My my Sami, such anger. Why are you responding so personally and with such hostility? My dear, I live on 17 acres. I grow all my fruits and vegetables. i Have 2 walnut trees, I have a fig tree, two cherry trees, two apricot, two peach, three apple and a small garden with all my leafy greens and carrots. I also have coyote, fox, squirrel, MOTHS and yes even butterflies. My goodness to think I might know the difference. Let me go on. I have mt. Lion and I have bear, rabbits that want my carrots, deer that jump my fence. it is the price I gladly pay to see a deer in my yard. It is a sad So let me tell you about sharing the planet you selfish idiot. I live organically and I don’t have to kill anything. If a mt lion came in to attack me I would kill to protect. But a worm in my garden is no threat. I just remove them and we all live peacefully. You are a selfish ignorant wasteful person. Is feeding your family that hard that you can’t enjoy teaching your children what a caterpillar looks like and that it will one day be a beautiful moth or butterfly. There is plenty to go around. My goodness what crawled up your ass and bit you? Have a nice day. :-)

  36. 465
    Sami Says:

    Hey Elenore… the more moths, or butterflies as you call them, the more eggs are laid in garden soil and the more catepilars are there are to eat human food! If you want to save butterflies, stick to the Monarch, which ACTUALLY IS a Butterfly. Save them? I think not… I squash them! Feeding my family is more important to me.

  37. 464
    Sami Says:

    Hey Elenor… the more moths, butterflies as you call them, the more eggs are laid in garden soil and the more catepilars are there are to eat our food! If you want to save butterflies, stick to the Monarch, which ACTUALLY IS a Butterfly.

  38. 463
    Eleanor Says:

    You actually don’t have to kill these beautiful creatures. You can just relocate them. As moths they don’t eat. So if you just relocate the caterpillar, he won’t be able to get back to you garden to eat your greens. It might be a worm now but he becomes a beautiful large moth. They don’t bite and are harmless except to defenseless veggies. So please relocate caterpillars/butterflies. Every time you kill a caterpillar you are killing some sort of butterfly.

  39. 462
    Rob Says:

    “txmomsigns Says:
    August 29th, 2011 at 8:44 pm
    Found the darling caterpillars on my tomato plant accompanied by a ton of white, powdery-looking critters covering the stems. What are those things?”

    txmomsigns, those “white, powdery-looking critters are probably the parasites that kill the horn-worm, I’d guess. Did you see the picture of the parasitized worm above?

  40. 461
    Diana Leonard Says:

    I found a worm/caterpilar that looks very similar to a tomato horn worm, except it has no white markings, it is a dark olive green and the horn on the hind end is the same color. My dog dug it up out of the ground. Are there burroughing caterpilars? We are in Baja, Mexico, and the soil is very sandy.

  41. 460
    sara conklin Says:

    today when i got home from school my dad showed me a bug he found while taking stuff out of the car,it was huge, fat, brown, and had a stinger?Me my dad and brother would like to know wht it is so plz tell me i have a go to youtube and look at the video, type a weird bug. plz respond

  42. 459
    Sami Says:

    Well, now I’ve heard it all! Those things you call a “Beautiful Bug”, and you hope to see it cacoon and emerge into a Beautiful Moth, are actually destroying your crop! Trust me, there are enough of them that escape destruction, to never see extinction. But, if you care more about those Destructors, than your crops… Why Bother trying to grow in the first place? Frankly, I’m more concerned with my family’s nutrition than a stupid BUG!

  43. 458
    Renee Says:

    I just found a Tomato Horn Worm on my Potato tree. He/she is the size of a persons middle finger. HUGE! It is beautiful. I used to not like them but, upon reading the response’s here, I will let it stay. I just hope I do get to see it coccoon and emerge into a beautiful moth. I’m off to capture natures beautiful bugs on film. Enjoy!

  44. 457
    Yvonne McCarthy Says:

    I am a photographer and have some gorgeous pictures of the worms. I have caught some dark videos of the moths. The other day there was one in my pool and it was barely alive. I pulled it out, took pictures and kept checking on it. I guess it recovered because it flew away. I can’t believe I got to hold the moth. If you’d like any of the pictures you are welcome to them.

  45. 456
    shyann Says:

    I am eight years old. I had a fun time looking up about the horn worms. I thought it was very cool to write a paper on the horn worm. I am happy because I found a horn worm in my tomato plant and I get to show it to my class. I will have a fun time showing it to my class. I will have a fun time sharing my paper that I wrote by myself and I looked up on the computer. My class will have a fun time looking at it and learning about it. from shyann

  46. 455
    paul hofferber Says:

    I have found 4 of the pests in one day and there are probably many more in my tomato plants

  47. 454
    Rose Says:

    I have the tomato horn worm also. They was not, on my tomato plants, They was on my moon flowers. They left all of my tomato plants alone.The type of moon flowers I have is the bush type, Not the vine. Ask your friends and neighbors for seeds for moonflowers. These worms turn into beautiful moths.

  48. 453
    Rachel Says:

    Welp, I just plucked one of these suckers off of my basil plant, well is WAS my basil plant…

    I have/had a small basil plant in a pot on my balcony which I water every day, and when I came home today i too wondered if there had been some odd weather because all of it’s leaves were gone. While I was investigating I bumped into this giant green caterpillar. I jumped and screamed because this thing is HUGE!

    I’m to inquisitive to squish it so it’s living in an apothecary jar in my kitchen. I’ve fed it tomatoes, squash and zucchini and I’m hoping it will cocoon. Last year I found a swallow tail and ‘hatched’ it.

    Pretty cool.

  49. 452
    Ed the Ppirate Says:

    I’ve always loved them tomater werms, since I was a kid.
    People, maybe you hate them because they eat so much and can destroy your tomato plants, but please don’t squish them! Don’t you know caterpillars are candy for birds? Maybe put them in a bowl or someplace where the birds can get them- you want the birds eating the insects in your garden, right?

  50. 451
    txmomsigns Says:

    Found the darling caterpillars on my tomato plant accompanied by a ton of white, powdery-looking critters covering the stems. What are those things?

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