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)

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.


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. 150
    parker Says:

    ours was doing the same and we added some soil and he dug down under the soil immediately..we’ll see what happens next?

  2. 149
    Joseph Landry Says:

    I grow 500 tomato plants a year and keep a lookout for hornworms all season. The best way to get them off the plants is to use one of those butane grille lighters. You’ve probably seen them, they look like a cigarette lighter only the flame is at the end of a shaft.

    Turn the flame up all the way and start hunting. All it takes is a few seconds with your “flame thrower” and they fall off. If you want to make sure they’re finished, step on them.

    Don’t step on the ones with wasp larva (the white rice looking things) They are doomed anyway and the emerging wasps will keep these pests out of your garden next year.

    ps: I hate picking them off by hand too.

  3. 148
    Mark Misemer Says:

    Are these edible for humans or dogs?

  4. 147
    lee Says:

    my daughter found a big green worm, with little black spikes,and long red spikes on its head and tale. this worm is about 61/2inches long and as big around as a hotdog. is it a tomatoe worm

  5. 146
    Sharon Says:

    I just picked 12 of those suckers off of my tomato plants. Will any birds eat them? Or are they too nasty for birds? My tomatoes are on an elavated deck and I threw them down below.

  6. 145
    Koleen Says:

    I have found a ton of these worms on all of my Willow trees. I have Weeping and Globe willows. We have never heard of this, have you? We live South of Tuscon. I have been picking them off and killing them. They are eating all the leaves off.

  7. 144
    gab/girl Says:

    does the spike on the tomato worm do anything? thanks,gabby.

  8. 143
    don and diane Says:

    Hi! We now just had those giant worms come and eat a whole wall ofour virginia creeper! Have you learned any more about how to eliminate them or keep them from being on the virginia creeper in the first place? Any info is appreciated!!! What product should we use?
    We live in Northern Arizona. Thanks!

  9. 142
    Vanessa Says:

    I have found that it is easy (and less yucky) to kill them by dropping them into a bucket of soapy water. I hate cutting or squishing them– they are so disgusting.

    Thanks for the tip about the blacklight. I’ll have to try that. I just gave away my blacklight to a teenager who thought it was SO cool (I’m a foster mom, but this kid was just in my home for a few days)… so I guess I’ll have to buy a new light now.

  10. 141
    Teresa Says:

    Where do hornworms generally live (states)? I never heard of them until I found one in my tomato plants and looked it up online. It is in the later larvae stage. There’s probably more than one. Yuck!!!

  11. 140
    Lance Says:

    I have found a worm that is about 4 inches long near my garden. My mom says it is a tomato worm, but it looks nothing like the pictures on any of the sites! It has 4 orange “horns” on the front, yellow spikes down its back, and small blue spikes down its sides. It also has blue “feet”. If you could give me some idea of what it really is, i would be very grateful!

  12. 139
    Rhonda Says:

    I find hornworms on my tomatoes every year. I am used to dealing with them. But this year I found 2 out front on my Butterfly bush. They were eating the leaves!!!! I took them out back to compare to the one I found on my tomatoes this morning and they are indeed the same.

    Who would have thought they liked Butterfly bushes??? I am not sure what kind of Butterfly bush it is. We live in Virginia now and the Butterfly bushes down here are different than the ones we had in New Hampshire. So check your Butterfly bushes!!!!
    Thanks for the great website! Very informative.

  13. 138
    Erich Says:

    This web site was teaching me alot thank you

  14. 137
    Bruce Lloyd Says:

    Thanks Cahri, I was shocked this morning to find every single leaf on all my habanera pepper plants gone. The ground was covered with black droppings. I discovered these huge, green tomato worms all over. I hate to kill things so I picked them off and put them in the garbage and they went to the dump. I probably should have killed them? These plants are 10 years old and still produce peppers.

  15. 136
    Dave Dudenhofer Says:

    Great and informative site. I figured out a couple of years ago that a wasp parasite uses the horn worms, so I am always anxious to see the little white spots showing up on them. If there aren’t any, though, I pick ‘em off and smash them on the ground. One hard smack usually does them in. As soon as I notice any upper leaves missing, or the telltale droppings I start hunting them down.
    They are one ugly worm!

  16. 135
    Doug Cherry Says:

    I am enjoying your great coverage of tomato hornworms! After they nearly wiped out my 16 tomato plants in a moments time I have learned some good and not so good ways to eliminate them. They are somewhat scary to pull off, though I have plucked about 50 of the giant pests. When I dropped a concrete block on a pile of them they splattered all over my face! When I took a pile into the house to show my kids some escaped in my house (to my wife’s dismay). So I finally found a satisfying way to dispose of them: I shoot them on the vine with my B.B. gun! It is somewhat satisfying and since I am in the country it is quite safe!

  17. 134
    Roxy Says:

    Hi, I recently found some type of worm in my grandpas garden. I looks kind of like a tomato worm but its not all green, the sides are green but the top is brownish, and it doesn’t have a horn. And seeing as we found it by the grape plants, I’m not to sure if its a tomato worm. I decided to keep him as a pet, but I’d really like to know what kind of worm is it so I know what to feed him and if hes going to turn into a butterfly. Anyone know?

  18. 133
    Rick Evans Says:

    Can I save my tomato plants after the worm has eaten everything?

  19. 132
    Christina Says:

    I’ve had a pet hornworm for over a week now and today those wasp things started to come out of his body. I removed over 70 from him and realized there must have been hundreds inside him. I’m so sad. I really grew to love him :(

  20. 131
    Makenna Says:

    Hello My name is makenna I was wondering How long Tomato Horn Worms live and When the Babies are born What happens to their Parents? Do they leave or die?


  21. 130
    brandon Says:

    Hey i have a question. I’m 12 and my grandmother has a tomato plant and I found a tomato worm. I was wondering if they make cakoons or not because mine was having very weird behavior like rolling a lot and it like shredded its skin or something please tell me what to do.

    an interested learner

  22. 129
    Joan Schwencer Says:

    Hi, I have tomatoes and moon flowers, once and a while I will find a tomatoe worm on the moon flowers and they are eating them, I did not know they liked moon flowers……

  23. 128
    Jen Says:

    We found a single magnificent hornworm on our tomato plant and decided to keep him as a pet. My son named him “couch tomato”.

    I fed him tomato leaves and a rotting tomato and he seemed happy for a few days. Then the dreaded wasp larvae parasite emerged on him this morning, and in an effort to try to save him, I removed them with a playing card.

    Now lots of clear goo is oozing out of his body from the holes where the parasite was (ewwwww!) and he looks dehydrated. I’m afraid the time has come to return him to the earth. Unless you think there might be a way to save him.

  24. 127
    Pam Says:

    The worms got there from a large moth that lade eggs….then they turned into hornworms….

  25. 126
    Lori Jo Says:

    My 4-incher was feasting on my “moon flower” plant. This plant has a spiny pod that holds hallucinogenic seeds and the leaves smell like peanut butter. I’d say it’s a perfect match…brought the fella inside – thanks for the information about them cocooning in dirt. He can keep the three black swallowtail cocoons company over the winter!

  26. 125
    victoria Says:

    also what do i feed them and if the eggs come how do i take them off. another thing my tomato worm just laid out a green little ball what is it!

  27. 124
    victoria Says:

    Hi I just found two tomato worms eating my grandmas tomato plants id like to keep them and hatch there eggs when they arrive but how do i know what gender they are.

  28. 123
    mary Says:

    About tomato hornworms: I live in Las Vegas and grew a tomato plant on a bet that it was impossible in dry 110 degree weather. It grew very big and thick and produced fruit very quickly. Then one day I woke up and looked to find sparce stems and 12 tomato hornworms just eating away! My question is: how did the worms get to the desert to find that one random tomato plant? I know where they go when there done feeding, but how did they get there?

  29. 122
    Pam Says:

    I couldnt believe it but I found four horn worms on my hot pepper plant ,
    I couldnt understand why the leaves were being eaten, all the leaves are almost gone with big peppers on it, so I looked closer and found four of those little suckers… and I have tomato plants they never touched… wierd. Interesting to know a moth lade its eggs….

  30. 121
    Consuelo Salazar Says:

    I go my kids some tomato worms. What all can they eat and how long do they live for. They would like to know how much they do eat and is the horn poisonous. Also are they mean to eachother.

  31. 120
    Chris Says:

    I had a potted tomato plant on my deck and the leaves sort of disappeared, I thought due to the heat and lack of rain here in CT. On closer view this morning there is this gigantic green catepillar eating one of the green tomatoes! I have never seen anything like this in the 50 years of my life! The tomato plant is about dead, but I don’t want to kill this creature. I think I will take the pot and all and put it in the woods!

  32. 119
    Allie Says:

    This year i planted my own tomato plants from seeds and let them grow under a heat lamp and took extreme care of them. my dad and i planted 2 of them upside down (through the bottom a hanging basket).
    The baskets are hanging about 2 feet apart on our front porch.
    Two weeks ago we got 4 worms off of one, today we found a worm on the other. Every day we search the plants for them and we never found any on the second plant even knowing what we were looking for.
    My Question is about how long does it take them to get big and do they just “appear” or are they there all along and we are just missing them?

    Thanks Verry Much!!


  33. 118
    David Reynolds Says:

    Is the red anntenna on the tomato worm a stinger?

  34. 117
    John Erb Says:

    I’ve nine precious Hovey papayas in Earthboxes. Four got root rot after heavy rain. So while drying out in my brightly lighted garage [and doing well after two weeks]I found mega damage on one plant. I found & terminated two tomato horn worms. Then checked all my other Hoveys & found about ten on one outside . Watch out, check your plants daily. I live in Tampa

  35. 116
    becca Says:

    my parents found 2 tomato worms and i thought it would be neat to keep one alive and show it to my science teacher…..but unfortunately i don’t know what to keep it in or when it will become a hawkmoth????
    when it does turn it into a hawkmoth what do i feed it then???

  36. 115
    Pat Says:

    I’ve witnessed the eating of the hornworm by the parasitic wasp larvae and found it sad and horrible. Why do I want to feed parasitic wasps anyway?

    We have a small garden, but don’t mind sacrificing some leaves and branches to the hungry worms. If they get carried away, we cut the branch off that they’re munching on and take it and them to the landfill or the neighbor’s woods.

    My dad used to place them under his car tires and run over them. Why he thought he had to use a huge car to kill them is beyond me.

  37. 114
    Mary Ann Says:

    For the past two years I have not planted marigolds with my tomatoes. I planted basil instead. For the past two years I have been battling tomato worms. You can bet marigolds be with them next year. Thanks for the information.

  38. 113
    sadie Says:

    we just found one of these in my moms garden and we decided to keep it as a pet!…and when i found this picture of this hornworm…i saw that its the same kind of tomato plant we have but we dont know what the name of the plant is. they are very small like pee’s but whem thier ripe, they turn dark purple…does antone have the answer to that?

  39. 112
    Deborah Says:

    Update to my post from June.

    June 29th thru July 6th I went on vacation. Every morning I pulled off horn worms off my plants. When I returned from vacation they demolished all 60 plants. Ate every leaf all that was left were some of the stems. They ate all the plants in the two bins closest to the east. I have one large tomato plant in the fourth bin closest to the west and I only found one huge work 4″ long on it. I left the bare stems in the containers and keep watering them. It’s been three weeks and all the plant leaves came back. They are about a foot tall with some flowers on them. This weekend I went out at midnight and found two hawk moths in the east bin. As I was removing one of the moths from side he turned his rear at me and squrted all over my blouse. They have been a REAL problem. I even have marigolds planted among all the tomato plants and it doesn’t seem to help. I’m going to order some of the Green Step™ Caterpillar Control- from Gardens Alive.

  40. 111
    jan westerholm Says:

    This is my first time planting tomato plants. All of a sudden I got a bunch of tomato horn worms. How did they just show up? Where did they come from? How did they know I have tomato plants?

  41. 110
    emily m hay Says:

    this sounds dumb, but my labrador just ate a tomato worm (hornworm) and had been having stomach issues for the last few hours. could they be harmful to a dog’s digestive system?

  42. 109
    relin Says:

    Can i get a picture of the tomato worm eggs?we have 20+ tomato plants this year and have had lots of worms
    PS thanks for the info onthe uv light. now where is my dads extention chord???

  43. 108
    Lynn Says:

    do tomato hormworms bite? thanxs Lynn

  44. 107
    Kaitlyn Says:

    Hey Randy,
    The small inchworm like things are small, baby tamato worms. And to keep them off your plants keep spraying the plants with soap and water.

  45. 106
    dsl Says:

    Iam a tomato lover and i planted 10 tomato plants. iam just finding these tomato horn worms. i need to know how they start to what happens next year when i plant my tomatos. i need to know how to get rid of these pest once and for all. please give me step by step on how they start there lives and where they go when tomato season is over. thank you .

  46. 105
    katie Says:

    i found a horn worm in my grandparents’ backyard, crawling AWAY from their tomato plants. turns out it was ready to dig and pupate. my seven questions are: they have to be around tomato plants while pupating? long does it take for them to pupate? their horn used as a self defense?
    4.i found a moth the size of my hand (i am only 13 so my
    hand is small)so could it be a hawkmoth? they have to mate to reproduce?
    6.what are there natural enemies?
    7.are the ”eye” designs on their sides for making predators
    think they can see them or for breathing holes or what?


  47. 104
    Mandy Says:

    After I pulled off a 3-incher from my mater plant, I decided to be merciful and gave him a heave about 30 ft. from the garden. I found him later — eating my ASIATIC LILY….poor confused hornworm. Anyone else had one munch on their lilies?

  48. 103
    Phyllis Kolbly Says:

    In my area, the best time of the day to find eggs is early in the morning. They must be laid either late in the evening or early in the morning because at 6 am I can find eggs that weren’t there the day before. If you are looking for worms, I think that may depend on temperature. I have the most success finding them fairly early in the day, but at my daughter’s place they seemed more active in the afternoon. She lives where it is much cooler than where I am. I think they may prefer the 70-90 degree temperature range and take cover when it gets warmer than that. If you can recognize eggs, you can prevent most of the damage. I do a daily check of plants and rarely have a worm over one half inch long, but I find from 1 to 10 eggs every day on six plants (this year) and miss enough eggs that I find about 5 worms (less than 1/2 inch) each week.

  49. 102
    john t. shiner Says:

    I found two of the ugly suckers on my tomatoes two days ago, they eat like my relatives. They both had the wasp larva on them and I mistakenly kill everything (small jar with about two ounces of alcohol did the job). I won’t do it again, I’ll save the worm and let the wasp larva feast. Thank you very much for your site, it is absolutely great!

  50. 101
    Cahri Says:


    It’s definitely not a tomato hornworm. I think it looks like the Cecropia Moth Caterpillar. I found this link:

    From their site:
    “This caterpillar is the larva of the Cecropia moth, also known as the Robin moth. It is one of our largest caterpillars. It feeds on many trees and shrubs including wild cherry, plum, elderberry, maple, willow, boxelder, apple, birch, lilac, walnut, pecan, elm, beech and poplar. In the late summer or early fall, the larva spins an overwintering cocoon attached to a twig on the plant where the larva feed. The large adult moth emerges May-July.”

    Cool Bug! GREAT photo!! :)

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