Garden Pests: Tomato Hornworms & Tobacco Hornworms

Tomato HornwormYou get up one bright and shinning morning and decide to go out and pick some fresh tomatos... only to find this horrific sight: Your formerly beautiful tomato plants have been ravished by giant, four inch long worms. This bad dream can be a reality in many parts of North America, and unfortunately our garden was recently introduced to this menacing creature -- the Tomato Hornworm and Tobacco Hornworm (Manduca quinquemaculata L. and Manduca sexta L., respectively).


At four inches long, Tomato Hornworms and Tobacco Hornworms are large, fat, and green worms with five pairs of prolegs and have a distinctive 'horn' on their rear. Hornworms are known to cause extensive damage to tomato plants, although it won't shy away from taking big bites out of your pepper, eggplant, potato plants (Solanaceae family, i.e. nightshade family) and occasionally green fruit as well. They eat the leaves of the plant and may nibble on green unripe fruit but they typically won't burrow and seldom bite ripening fruit. Hornworms are one of the largest caterpillars in America and are impressive in size and bulk. The only thing more impressive than their size is their appetite--hornworm can make quick work of your plants overnight.

Tobacco HornwormClosely related to the Tabacco Hornworm, the Tomato Hornworm is known by a number of other variant names (tomato worm, tomato horned worm, green tomato worm, tomato fruit worm, etc). Tomato Hornworms and Tobacco Hornworms are often confused as they look similar and it is not uncommon to find a Tobacco Hornworm on a tomato plant and a Tomato Hornworm on a tobacco plant. You can distinguish the two worms fairly quickly: the Tobacco Hornworm has seven diagonal white stripes and a red horn while the Tomato Hornworm tend to have V-shaped marks on each side and their horn is straighter and typically blue or black in color. Tobacco Hornworms tend to prefer the southern United States while the Tomato Hornworm tends to prefer the northern US. While extremely large and slow pests, they are frustratingly difficult to spot due to their shape and color and tend to hide on the underside of the plant. Hornworms also have distinctive droppings which are large and black and tend to accumulate on the ground underneath the plants they are infesting.

Tomato Hornworm Moth aka Hummingbird MothSo where do these giant green tomato devouring worms come from? They are the larvae either the Five-Spotted Hawk Moth (Tomato Hornworm) or the Sphinx Moth (Tobacco Hornworm). Hawk moths lay their eggs on the underside of the plants leaves where they hatch and eat at the leaves and the green fruit of the plant. Disliking direct sunlight hornworms spend their days eating on the interior of the plant, emerging to feed on the outer leaves at night (thus they are most easily spotted at dusk or dawn). Hornworms have five larval stages, after which the caterpillars typically enter the soil to pupate, only to emerge as a large moth. Hawk moths, with a large wingspan (3.5cm to 15cm; Five-Spotted Hawk Moths are typically 10-13cm / 4-5 inches), are some of the fastest known insects, capable of flying over 30 miles per hour. Some hawk moths are even capable of hovering while they consume nectar from flowers, much like a hummingbird would. Spotting the moth of hornworm caterpillars is difficult because they mainly travel at night.

Frequently hornworms are found with a number of white cocoons attached to its. DO NOT KILL THIS TOMATO WORM! These white sacks are not the caterpillar's eggs--quite the opposite!--the white cocoons are the pupae of the Braconid Wasp. These wasps are parasitic insects that prey on hornworms. These wasps hunt down our garden pests, inject their eggs into their prey where the eggs hatch into larvae and begin eating the internal organs of the hornworm. After these "maggots" have matured they bore through the skin of the hornworm and proceed to spin a cocoon and attach themselves to the worm. From the cocoons emerge adult Braconid Wasp which will begin hunting for other Tomato Hornworms and Tobacco Hornworms to feast upon.

Parasitic Wasp on Tomato Hornworm

Hints on Spotting Hornworms

- Search for the tomato worms at dusk & dawn. Tomato worms dislike the heat of direct sunlight and eat from the underside of the leaves during the day; they emerge as the sunsets. Due to their color and shape they are very difficult to spot when in plain view, so hunting for them while they are hiding makes them extremely difficult to find.

- Droppings. Hornworms are voracious eaters and produce a lot of large, black droppings underneath the plant they have infested. The droppings look almost like little black grenades. Follow the trail and you are likely to find a hornworm.

Tomato Hornworm droppings

- White pupas. Look for these on the ground or on apparent "branches". These are likely parasitic wasp cocoons and can help you find tomato worms.

- Try a blacklight. Some have reported great success hunting for the worms at night by using a black light to help spot the worms.

- Follow the destruction. When all else fails, follow the path of destruction in your garden.

Eliminating this Pest from your Garden

- White Cocoons = Don't Kill! Leave the hornworm where it is. It is most likely fairly developed and already done most of the damage it can. The white sacks attached to the worm are Wasp which will soon emerge to hunt down and kill other hornworms. This is Yahweh's natural biological "insecticide".

- Till your soil. Before you plant your tomatoes rototill your garden soil as this will kill the eggs that were laid in the soil in the winter months. This will prevent moths from emerging in your soil and immediately assaulting your garden.

- Pick them off. Using the tips above to spot them, remove them with your hands or a stick. If they lack white cocoons you can cut them in half with garden shears, drowned in a bucket of water, squished, or fed to the birds.

- Chickens. Some gardeners have reported that bantam chickens will hunt for the worms and remove them from your plants.

- Natural bug repellants. Some have reported that red pepper (dust or liquid) can deter hornworms; others have reported that a mixture of water, vegetable oil, and liquid ivory soap sprayed onto your plants may help make your plants unsatisfying to tomato worms.

Tomato Hornworm and Tobacco Hornworm

- Insecticides. Your garden can be made Hornworms-resistant by the use of chemicals like bacillus thuringiensis, carbarl, permethrin, spinosad, sevin dust/liquid, dipel dust, etc (read the label carefully and do some research before using). Bacullus thuringiensis (BT) is an insecticide that attacks the digestive system of some insects and is not typically considered harmful to humans.

- Insect Collection. Collect the worms (either pull them off or snip the branch they are on) and put them in a jar with a lid with small holes. It will form a cocoon and emerge as a large moth. Your children may enjoy this science experiment! It is also rumored that they are very aggressive and when placed in a closed container with other worms they will fight.

References and Helpful Links:

Associated Content

Colorado State


Can You Hear Me Now

Wiki: Tomato Worms

Wiki: Tobacco Worms

Wiki: Parasitic Wasp

Recipes for using your garden-fresh tomatoes:

Homemade Tomato Salsa (Includes canning instructions)

Homemade Tomato Soup (Includes canning instructions)

Homemade Pizza Sauce (VERY good!! Includes canning instructions)

Fresh tomato salsa
Fresh tomato salsa recipe


Italian Chicken and Asparagus

More great recipes featuring tomatoes, like the ones pictured above!

Check out our favorite Mexican recipes, many of which call for fresh tomatoes! :)

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Maybe putting large pictures of worms was NOT a good idea for a recipe site! Haha, well, this may be helpful to some gardeners out there. Remember: If you see those little white cocoons don't kill the worm!

What a way to get acquainted with Tammy's Recipe site! I found one of these critters on one of my tomato plants last night! I couldn't figure out what had been gnawing away at my green tomatoes. We thought we had a rat or something! I will be checking the rest of my plants very carefully. This guy sure ravished the plant I found him on, ate all my new flowers and only left a couple small tomatoes. Just as you said, the two ripening ones are intact thankfully. We snipped off the branch he was on and put him in my son's bug keeper for the kids can watch him transform. Thanks again for the great information!

I was gone for the weekend and picked off 36 of those stupid worms and enjoyed feeding them to the ants.

I am so glad you put this out here. We found this worm with the white cocoons on our tomatoes plants. Very creepy. We had no idea what to make of it. We put it in a jar, started some research, and found your site. Now we know we need to put it back. We also know now what's been eating our plants and we can start looking for others.

This was extremely helpful even if it may not be the most favorable thing for a recipe site. Don’t remove it. I think gardeners will find it helpful.

Thanks from Ohio

I acutally found a hornworm today while I was tearing down my tomato plants (they have been destroyed) The worm I found today had the white cocoons all over it. I placed the worm in the bag along with the dead plants. Why do you say "we need to put it back"? Is it bad to kill them?

thanks From Pittsburgh

The cacoons are wasp larva. They will kill the horn worms and when they become adults will attack adult horn worms. They are a natural pestiside!

As gross as it sounds, I just read on another site where one accidentally fell onto a grill while ribs were being BBQd..... The dude said he thought it was a piece of meat and bit into it. HE said it was quite good and now he intentionally grills and eats them...... My thoughts are, What a sicko!!! But I thought of it when I see your "on second thought" statement above!

Your right, especially the pic of the one with cut up asparagus.

Okay, does that picture of the Italian Chicken and Asparagus really look like it's a plate full of tomato worms?! Joshua said that it kinda did when he saw that I added a picture of it to this post... :P

Yes it does look like worms I used to love asparagus but canNOT stand worms any kind, may never eat asparagus again, what a shame!

I just found a hornworm when I was digging up our Spruce Tree that was killed by something. Could this in anyway be the culprit?

i just came in from picking some radishes from my raised beds that i had planted last fall. This is the middle of Feb. 2013 the ground is still frozen , but with enough of a thaw to pull the radishes. What I also pulled up were hornworms and they were still very much alive, to my horror. How do I kill them before planting starts? Is there something I can add to the soil that will not harm my plants.? Praying you can answer these, I see you haven't had a comment for quite some time. God Bless your day.

Actually I think these worms pests that they are, are really quite beautiful. Their color is such a great camouflage and if u are lucky/unlucky u can find them as small as an inch worm. I hate what they do to my tomatoes and just pluck them off and squash them, old farm girl that I am. I really want an organic way to get rid of them so am on this site. Will try the cornmeal and also the ammonia water solution.

Those are horrible worms! I dislike "collecting" them. :) So far I ahve not had them in my garden, but growing up we use to have to look for them, some years worse then others.


Because they get so FAT and yukky!! I can't stand the things!! I'm glad they're staying out of your garden! :)

Can you tell me if the hornworms also attack Sage? Mine is full of holes. I found a hornworm on my Tomato plant, and am wondering if by removing it, if I have cured the problem with my sage as well, or if there may be another insect, that has a craving for sage.

Thanks for posting this, Tammy! Last year was our first to have have a problem with such a critter, when I noticed that one of our tomato plants had dramatically reduced in size.

So far this year, I haven't seen any, and I hope not to, as we have some gorgeous plants out there and already have had some of the best tomatoes ever, from them.

Joshua actually wrote the article for me. :) I'm blessed because he helps me with this website so much!!

My parents' tomato plants are just starting to produce and they have lots of the worms this year... so maybe you're not going to get any worms this season! :)

Tammy, I come to your site so I can drool over pictures of yummy FOOD, not have this monstrosity of a creature staring at me!!;-)

They are more disgusting "in person" than in these photos! ha! :)

Thank you for your help. You identified a tobacco horn worm for me. I was out walking along my tomato plants and saw this extremely ugly worm and wondered what the heck it was! So I just googled "giant tomato worm" and here you have taught me all about them. Thank you!

PS. This one didn't have the wasp larvea on it, but if it did, I would have to kill it anyways!

Thank you! You have just helped me identify a nasty looking horned tobacco worm.

I was out walking in my tomato garden when I noticed the fat ugly thing and wondered what the heck it

I just googled "giant tomato worm" and here you have taught me all about them. Thank you!

PS. This one didn't have the wasp larvae on it, but if it did, I think I would have to kill it anyways!...eeeewwwwwww!!!!lol

My kids are so excited about their new pet hornworms. Yesterday they set up a petting zoo of hornworms in front of the house. There were few visitors.....hmmm wonder why? Anyway, they can't wait for them to change to moths. Thanks for the info!

I am so glad that your kids are excited about their new "pets". However, please remember that when they change to moths, those moths will lay eggs and those eggs will become these ugly green hornworms once again, which will delight in ravishing our tomato plants and peppers again! I had 2 beautiful hot pepper plants growing inside since last August, from seed, and wintered them over here in the house in Florida. When the nights got warm enough, I put them outside and they produced beautiful hot peppers all Spring and Summer long, until 2 weeks ago! That's when I first saw "missing" leaves and flowers. I searched the plants and found 5 of these horrible creatures. I put them in a container with air holes until I found out what they were and what they do. I put the containers outside. The rain went in them and they drowned! Last night I found another one. I went out with a flashlight! I put it in a container too, because I don't have the heart to cut them in half. However, I will put it outside too and nature (rain) can do its thing once again. I hate what they have been doing to my plants that I have cared for all this time, and have lived through aphids with them, lost leaves, lost flowers, but they came back to produce a wonderful crop that I gave to my neighbor and others, who love these peppers; however, these ugly green invaders are destroyers, big time!

Please re-read the article at the top of this page. :) The moths are NOT more horn worms! :)

"These white sacks are not the caterpillar's eggs--quite the opposite!--the white cocoons are the pupae of the Braconid Wasp. These wasps are parasitic insects that prey on hornworms. These wasps hunt down our garden pests, inject their eggs into their prey where the eggs hatch into larvae and begin eating the internal organs of the hornworm. After these "maggots" have matured they bore through the skin of the hornworm and proceed to spin a cocoon and attach themselves to the worm. From the cocoons emerge adult Braconid Wasp which will begin hunting for other Tomato Hornworms and Tobacco Hornworms to feast upon."

I re-read the article at the top of the page and found the following in there:

So where do these giant green tomato devouring worms come from? They are the larvae either the Five-Spotted Hawk Moth (Tomato Hornworm) or the Sphinx Moth (Tobacco Hornworm). Hawk moths lay their eggs on the underside of the plants leaves where they hatch and eat at the leaves and the green fruit of the plant. Disliking direct sunlight hornworms spend their days eating on the interior of the plant, emerging to feed on the outer leaves at night (thus they are most easily spotted at dusk or dawn). Hornworms have five larval stages, after which the caterpillars typically enter the soil to pupate, only to emerge as a large moth. Hawk moths, with a large wingspan (3.5cm to 15cm; Five-Spotted Hawk Moths are typically 10-13cm / 4-5 inches), are some of the fastest known insects, capable of flying over 30 miles per hour. Some hawk moths are even capable of hovering while they consume nectar from flowers, much like a hummingbird would. Spotting the moth of hornworm caterpillars is difficult because they mainly travel at night.

The ones that I pulled off my 2 nice pepper plants did not have any white cocoons on them. If they don't, then a wasp has not come near them. If a wasp does not inject into the caterpillars, then nothing will be on it to kill it. If nothing like the wasp kills it, then the caterpillars will enter the soil to pupate, and will come out as a large moth. That large moth will lay their eggs on the underside of the plant's leaves and the hornworm cycle continues. That is what I got from reading the top of the page. So, if those children take the branch and caterpillar, and there are no white cocoons on the caterpillars, the cycle will continue. Is this right, or am I misunderstanding something. Thanks for your help and thanks for having this wonderful page! It definitely is a big help!!! THANKS!!! :)

Hi, again,

While scrolling down and reading all the posts, I came across the following post:

Moth lays eggs on plant.
Worms eat plant.
Pupa overwinters in/or near garden in the soil.
Moth emerges in early May.

Okay, I do see how this is really confusing! :)

I must thank you also. This was the most informative and not technical explaination of these ugly, creepy and nasty critters.

I sure hope to NOT have them in my garden next year.

Good Luck and God Bless!

MY science teacher dropped one on me! While it had wasp larvae on it! Worst day eva=(

I just stumbled on half a dozen of these on my tomato plants tonight. Some were as big as three inches and thick as a pencil!

Needless to say I was completely horrified. I can pull off tiny little inchworms with my hands, but no way was I grabbing one of those. I snipped off the branches into a coffee can and tossed them in the garbage.

Horrible, horrible creatures!

I'm seriously put off my dinner!

This is a little late, but since everyone is talking about their disgusting insect encounters, I might as well join the fray. The day this was posted I arrived at work early in the morning. The two night staff said to me, "Guess what! We have a new pet!!" and proceeded to open a large plastic container holding the largest insect I have ever seen. "Aahh!!" I said; my first thought being, "A fuzzy cockroach?" It was at least 4" long. I live in a relatively cold area, so we don't get many insects larger than two inches. Anyway, one of the residents (it's a senior's lodge) overheard us talking about this thing (we were going to call the museum as they have a big bug department), and said it was probably a junebug.

Okay, that's enough bug for me. I'm going to bed!


i was waiting for my dad and he came in with 2 hornworms on a tomato plant. i put them in a jar and named them

now i have 5 pets!!!!!!


I was waiting for my parents to come home and my Dad came in with a tomatoe plant with 2 Tobacco Horn Worms on it. I put them in a jar and named them. Me and my mom did research and found out what type of caterpillar they were. They poo a lot! They ate almost a whole egg plant in less than a week. They are awesome catepillars. I can't wait for them to grow!Thanks, James

I am doing the same thing! I have seven horn worms in an old fish tank that I have. Two of them dug into the soil that I had put in last night. It was really cool to see. I saw somthing that not a lot of people get a chance to see. I hope they make it through the final stage.

These worms are the most beautiful creatures I have ever seen on the face of this earth! They make me all warm and fuzzy inside.
Good Job for posting picures of the pretty worms on your website!

Thank you for helping me pin point the monster who has gobbled up my datura's! I was so excited one day as I saw my hard work to grow my daturas was paying off and finally had two blooms coming up! As I starting looking closer I noticed there was a hole at the base of the bud. As I looked even closer this monster popped out! On several other occaisoins I have seen one or even two on my beautiful datura's. My husband decide to put a small plastic cup around the base of the plant thus preventing this horrible creature from climbing up to the precious leaves of our plants. Worked like a charm! Try it on all your veggys that stand tall.

I am wondering how to put a small plastic cup around the base of a plant that would prevent this "horrible creature" from getting up to my pepper plant?

Thank You for posting the tip about using a blacklight to hunt the hornworms at night. I discovered this, years ago, and have had great success in searching for the little critters. I use a fluorescent desk lamp with a blacklight bulb, on a long extention cord. They stand out among the foliage, and are easy to pick off. I have tried to alert the world about my discovery, but this is the first actual mention I have seen, apart from my tip to Mother Earth News a few years ago.

read a reader's digest and it suggested that you make a homebrew by making an insecticide out of them do you think its okay to do that and spray it on the plants?

i think the thing is ewwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww DO YOU ?

These worms not only eat tomatoe and tobacco plants but I have a beautiful flowering huge (before the worms have devoured it) plant that they have eaten. I have found eight of them so far. I made the oil,water, and soap solution to spray on all of the leaves and hopefully this will work.

tomato worms are the worst pests ive had to deal with.

joshua, what do you do when you see a tomato worm on the branch what do you do to it? what i do is throw them as high in the air as i can, then when it comes down it hits the ground so hard it spats! that is the most fun way to kill it!!!!!!!!

Last season (my first season in new home) I was picking off 10 to 20 tomato worms off 4 tomato plants a day. I am not joking. I want to still have an organic garden, but I just don't think I can stand picking them off again. Is there ANYTHING that will get rid of these beasts? Desperate in CA.

Thank You for the article! We are a hs family and are getting ready to do a unit study on the book 'Meet Addy'. One of the topics we want to study is the Tabacco Worm, I didn't find much info until I came to your page...thank you...and thanks to to all your responders, especailly the ones who have decided to keep the worms as observation experiments...I know my girls would LOVE to watch how these worms change into moths.

YahChna in TN
Praise Yahweh!
visit me at my blog

Well! I've found only one in the garden last summer, but THREE this season. The tomato plants haven't suffered much, just a few wilting leaves. The worms have been named and are currently acting as pets. Sadly, most of the hornworms I see have wasp pupae on them and die within days. However, I've found some that are huge (at least 4 inches in length and as thick as my finger) that seem pretty healthy. My sister screamed like a banshee when she saw the newest members of our household. I don't know - I think they're kinda cute.

I have found 4 of these buggers on my tomato plants and couldn't figure out what they are. With this article I now know what they are and what to look for. I have cut each one frm the plant they were eating andtossing them in the alley behind my house. I covered them in weed killer, sprayed Lysol on them and 1 managed to find it's way back to my plants. Is there no killing them? There is no way in hell I will be touching them. The last one I found I putit in a plastic bag and threw it in the garbage. I hope the sucker fry's in the hot sun tomorrow. I have tried the oil, and dishsoap solution and nothing has worked. I will definitely be turning the soil in the fall to make sure there are none next year. I so look forwar to my tomatoes every year and this year I am quite upset.

Thank you for posting this article, it was very informative.

WD 40 will kill them as the oil suffocates them. This works on wasps also. Just remove them from the plant & then spray them

Can you spray anything on these pests to kill them on the plant without harming the plant? All of a sudden my 4 nice healthy tomato plants are infested with these nasty hornworms. I can't stand looking at them, much less picking them off the plants with gloved hands and dumping them in a soapy bucket of water, as I've seen recommended. HELP!

Just wanted to tell you that Bacillus thuringiensis is a bacterium, not a chemical insecticide as you stated in your article. I have used it for years and it is absolutely devastating for any kind of caterpillar infestation. The caterpillars eat a few of these bacteria and immediately develop terminal indigestion. Another great thing about Bacillus thuringiensis is that it is completely safe for any animals to eat so if a "treated" caterpillar is eaten by a bird it isn't dangerous at all for the bird. Also, it is totally safe for people to eat as our systems are not susceptible to it -- so don't fret about spraying it on your tomatoes. It also works great on the little caterpillars that devastate petunias. I use "Safer" brand's "Caterpillar Killer".

Thanks for the son and I were excited to find out what type of worm the creepy green things were. We have still not decided whether or not we will keep Ernie and Bert or try something else to dispose of the dastardly duo. I will say they are hardy critters though. when I found them by surprise I cut off the branch they were attached to and put in tupperware with the lid sealed (no holes). Needless to say, when I came home from work13 hours later they were still alive. They must be anaerobes. Anyway, thanks for solving our mystery.

I just found one of these giants on my tomato plant with a bunch of the white sacs on it's back. I showed my husband and kids - we're all amazed at the size! Thanks so much for this site. Great information and awesome pictures!

We found three of them this week and brought them inside to raise. The girls have been picking leaves off my tomato plants to feed them! One of the three has the wasp larvae coming out of it, so we don't expect it to live. Anyway, what can I say? We love bugs!

Throw some of these worms in your neighborhood pond and watch what the fish do to them !!

My poor honeysuckles. All summer long they were healthy and growing strong. We went away for a long weekend to come home and find them stripped of greenery and all that is left are brown twigs and about 500 tomato worms.... *deep sigh* So now my husband is off in search of an insecticide.

will it stop them and if not, will some kind of netting work?

no i can tell you from personal experience this year. I got me a tomatoe topsy tuvy and planted a tomatoe in it, nice thick stem but suddenly the leaves started wilting and I blamed the birds to start with then the sqirrels but behold I had tomatoe worms, disgusting little critters. It ate everything on my plant.

Moth lays eggs on plant.
Worms eat plant.
Pupa overwinters in/or near garden in the soil.
Moth emerges in early May.

WE HAVE ONE PLANT.. ITS UPSIDE DOWN... IT WORKS GREAT..LOTS OF SOIL AND WATER IT EVERY DAY AT LEAST 1gal. of water per day. The worms I thought would not get to the plant, but duuuaaa..the soil. I thank they engineer the soil with these lavra (eggs), just where we have to buy the peper, sevensdust, etc. to reap the fruit... Huh FRIED GREEN TOMATOES ARE THE BEST...IT WORTH THE WORK. by the way we used needle nose pliers to remove the worms,pulling them from the back where there leggs are attached to the plant,they will not come pull-a-part from that end...still have not tryed the BLACK lite will do that before leaving for Fla.

cant find the answer for what would of killed just one plant out of 18 and they are waist high went out yesterday to water and it just lokked wilted? So watered it and went back out in the evening and its no better trying to save the plant but this morning no bettere what to do atleast if I know the cause I can make sure it doesn't happen to my whole garden.. Thanks hopefully someone can help... Carol

Carol - If the plant just looks wilted (leaves curled, etc) it is probably a lack of calcium. You can add crushed egg shells around the base of the plant or find a fertilizer that is high in calcium.

You recommended a mixture of water, vegetable oil, and liquid ivory soap sprayed onto your plants may help make your plants unsatisfying to tomato worms. Well, I did this and it killed my tomato plants. I should have stuck to chemicals. My bad for listening to a recipe site for insect info.

How much did you mix? I used 1 teaspoon veg. oil, 1 tsp. liquid ivory soap (have also used Palmolive before), and 16 oz. water in a sprayer. This works for aphids too.

Great post! I have been trying to identify the grenade-like pellets this caterpillar that appeared on my fuschia plant was leaving behind. All other sites I visited suggested that caterpillar poop looks like mouse or rabbit droppings or pellets, but yours has the greatest pic and that is exactly what he is leaving behind, remnants of my lovely plant! But, I ask, why would we find a tobacco hornworm on my fuschia plant in Los Angeles, newly-purchased from a health-food type store (Trader Joe's)? He's grown huge and I have let him have the run of the plant b/c we don't get much wildlife like that here :), but do you think he's infecting other plants? I have not seen any other hornworms, ever. What do you think? Thanks!

I have had amazing sucess using a peppermint oil emulsion. for a small batch just use 4 ozs of water a teaspoon of milk or other emulsifier and 20-30 drops of peppermint essential oil.

How do you apply this mixture? I'm a beginner. Do you spray it all over plant, or pour into soil? Please help! I've never seen one, have plenty of droppings, and feel so crepy about them. Thanx

I like the sound of the ivory soap, water and vegetable oil mixture but how is it mixed in thirds or what, can you help me I would like to use it on my tomatoes for I am haveing a very ruff time getting rid of them.

Roll them in cornmeal along with your green tomatos and fry them;you get rid of them and can enjoy them all at one time....................

When I was a kid, my mom grew tomatoes in the back yard (in N.Ca), and one of our chores on the chore chart was to go out everynight and morning to inspect the plants, and pull off any tomato worms we found. (We just used our fingers (they are not squishy or slimy at all), so I kinda laugh at the other posts about pliers, etc.) On 4 to 8 plants, there would ALWAYS be several. To be sure they couldn't crawl back to the plants, we just cut them in half with a pair of pruning snips dedicated to the task. I guess it may sound kinda gruesome to those unfamiliar with this pest, but as a kid, it was just part of gardening, and a quick death seemed more humane than waiting & hoping for heat or starvation to do the job. ... just my 2 cents...

Chickens love these too - pick the worms off and throw them in the coop. The chickens give the worms the 'ol one eye, then gobble them up!

I (had) six beautiful tomato plants loaded with tomatoes. My husband went in the hospital and I came back about 48 hours later and one plant was demolished and two others started on. That first night I got 17 tomatoe worms off and drowned. Now three days later i am up to 27 worms. I hope thats the end but I have my doubts. This is the first chance I've had to find out what to do about them. They will squirt you with green ?? and I have had two bite my finger but not break the skin. Drowning works really well

I researched and found the green ooze is the contents of their stomache. I was afraid it was acid or something before I read about them and they do bite, or try to at least!

My husband picked two off of my tomato plants and they were about three inches long. He put them in a jar with plastic over the top secured by a rubber band so he could show the nieces and nephews. He got up from work and they were both still alive and in the jar. I got up a few hours later and looked and they were both gone! I thought he had taken them outside. I asked him about it when he got home from work and he laughed and said no he hadn't. I thought he was joking. Later on this evening I found out he wasn't! I saw one of them crawling across my living room floor! I can't find the other one. Do they eat each other? Because I'm hoping they do, or I still have one in my house!

Nothing worse than a sudden popping squirting hornworm under barefoot!

I walked out to the garden this afternoon and saw my pepper plants in dismay. At first I thought it may have been the deer that have been roaming around lately. On closer examination I saw the pile of poop on the ground under the plants. Well what do you know huge caterpillers on me cayenne, jalapeno and green pepper plants. Did a search and led me here to identify these fowl critters. Thanks for posting this article. It was informative.

This is what I did, and my grandma has done it for years, and it works. I took a bar of ivory bar soap, and sliced up about 1/4 of it. I put it in a windex sized spray bottle, added hot water and shook it up until disolved. I sprayed it on my tomato and pepper plants, and I haven't had another issue. I of course mist them down again after a heavy rain.

I would be scared to add the oil with the 100 degree temps lately. I'm scared it would burn/cook my plants. The way wearing baby oil out in the sun burns your skin.

Hope this helps.

You are right about the oil burning the plants. I learned that lesson the hard way. Here is south Texas it gets hot. If you spray with oil your plant will burn up. Thanks for the tip of the Ivory soap and water. I'll try that as I'm finding worms daily.

I've heard that the "tomato-snakes", as my daughter calls them, can bite. I've heard of a lady who got bit in the finger from one and her finger swelled up. Do you know if this is possible?? Would someone please comment?? I know that they can be crabby when you pull them off. I did that the other day and it "clicked'" while it thrashed on the ground!! They are disgusting!! My daughter said that she's gonna BUY all her tomato's from the store now!! I just think they are gross. But that said, I'm going to capture one and keep it so that my grand-daughter can see it turn in to a moth. What a great learning experiment!! Thanx for all the info everyone!!


I have been gardening for years, and always grow tomatoes. This is the first year I found these "tomato worms". I live in a rural area, and we have critters that come out at night. I checked my tomato plants today to find out there were leaves missing, and just the stems at the top were there, so I thought, hmmm, must be the deer? couldn't be the skunks or the groundhogs, they can't get that high. Then I was looking around at the plants, and to my huge surprise and dismay, saw these huge, long, fat green worms about 4-5" long, w/white stripes on its back and a little red tail almost. I had my neighbor come over, she said they were potato bugs, or tomato bugs... Glad I found your site! I hope they don't come back!!!

NH girl

The neighbors got a kick out of me doing the "grossed out dance" in the yard this morning. I had NO IDEA what these disgusting things were on my cherry tomato plants until I found this site, the most comprehensive info I could find.

Thankfully the 2 tomato hornworms were infested with white cocoons, but I had my boyfriend snip off the branches they were on & throw them in the woods. I am NOT going to get them! lol.

Ironically, about a month ago we caught a large "butterfly" for my godson. Guess what that was.......

I think my gardening days are over.

Thanks for the great info.

I normally wear gloves when I pull hornworms off my tomato plants. Today I pulled one off bare handed. It squished a little as I pulled on it and it squirted a bit of clear liquid on my fingers. Then it tried to attach its sucker to my thumb then my forefinger. As soon as I dropped it I felt a burning sensation and blisters popped up where the sucker attached. There must be an acid or some kind of venom. Does anybody know anything about this?

Anna in NC

I've never had blisters, but I do get clear (green) liquid and they do BITE!!! Unfortunately, I just got done squishing 3 with the wasp eggs on them. will know better next time.

I have just about got the mockingbirds and bluejays in my yard trained to come to the "worm gong". Have not had many of the giants this year, but I always pick them off and throw them in exactly the same place. The birds always find them in good time. I've heard that chickens will also keep down the hornworms. Sure wish they were of use for Tomato Fruitworm.

All along I thought I had tomato worms, and after reading your excellent article (with great pictures) I find they're tobacco worms. Oh well, pretty close. I've squished dozens of tiny ones and have picked at least 50 off my three plants this summer. I take them down to the burrowing owl's hole - they eagerly await their "treat". But now I know what the cocoons look like and I'll dispose of them when I plant again. Thanks!

These must be regional. I lived in Maryland as a lad and later in many other states but never saw one of these till this year here in Texas. I even worked on a tomato farm picking these as a teen for two summers and never knew they existed. I immediately used a Tat insect bomb I keep on hand for any insect infestations. It's the kind that you set off in the house and go away till later to kill any and all pests. I hold the trigger down part way so it won't lock and aim at the plants. Once the fog from the can went through the tomato plants the worms dropped off and onto the ground in large numbers. You cannot see most of them with the eye as they blend completely. My daughter who is petrified of insects put her nose right up to one and didn't see it at all till it moved. The damage done to my well cared for plants was the source of major anger and I couldn't wait to kill all I could find. The next day the birds came by and cleaned them up off the floor of my garden. Problem solved. No problem now. I saw some more moths flying this evening and gave the plants a second dose of Tat. I will periodically spray all my plants till the season is over. I experimented with seven spray and other insect sprays but these worms are difficult to kill. Tat zaps them immediately and works on all insects including the extra large flying American cockroaches that live in the Carolina swamp areas. I used it on those and completely got rid of all from my property when I lived there. Tat rules!!!

thank you for the great information! i snipped the branch the gross green jaba the hut was on, and let it all fall into a bucket of water. easy peasy!

What a pain these are, every year in northern Alabama. Best method so far seems the morning/evening hand picking of them off the leaves. Soap/water makes you feel like you're doing something but hand picking actually works. How to: Follow the poop, remove the worm, wash off the leaves so you can see if an area is still being infested the next day. Avoid the Seven folks, it's deadly to pollinating bees. Noticed a big decrease in the bees this year, I had a lot of blossoms on everything that yielded nothing. No bees, no pollination, no fruit. Very sad.

i will probably never run across this site again, but yes, i will post a comment. I have just "fostered" two tomato horn worms and yes, they are destructive. But... they are beautiful as well. They are like characters in an animated film. If you saw them in "Bugs" and they were given a voice, you'd probably love them. The first five pair of legs have these little, itty-bitty green suction cups at the ends which they must use to grasp their breakfast, lunch, dinner. Yes, they have a voracious appetite and when the food they eat works itself through the worm's system it comes out like little "packages" of green-grown segmented droppings and it seems to me, upon recent inspection, that their digestive tract must somehow divide in two, side by side "disposal sites", if you will, and the poop seems to come out of both sides simultaneously to be joined as one complete little present at the end of the process. This must be loaded with nutrients since it is nothing but ground up tomato plant and whatever digestive juices are generated to process the food internally.
I have never had one bite but it is disconcerting to have them try to gain purchase on your finger once you have removed them from a branch of your beloved tomato plant. If you can get past the "ugh" aspect of their being, their coloring is absolutely amazing. Again, like an animated film character. Lime green with white lines and what looks like a little eye on each segment of their body. And that silly little horn at the back end allows me to tell which end is which. I can't help but wonder the purpose of that little horn. It looks like a rino horn (sort of - but located at the wrong end). So, I had two. I put them in a glass jar with a wad of newspaper at the bottom to absorb moisture. Then I put in several leafed stems of the tomato plant in (fastened cheese cloth over the top) and at the end of the day, the stems would be stripped bare and those little brown/green segmented droppings would be all over the paper. I'd clean their "house" and set them up all over again. After about three days, one began to loose the vibrancy of the green and I saw tinges of brown begin to show. I took 'him' outside and put him on the plant. He was not strong enough to stay put and he dropped to the ground. Within seconds, he had burrowed into the earth to begin the next phase of his existence. I must say, considered how weak he seemed, I found it very interesting to watch the energy he put forth to get his body underground. I know they form the pupae under the earth and his urgency was palpable. I have seen the moths and they are enormous compared to other species and have fluttered around night blooming plants (four o'clocks seem to be a favorite, for one and at first, I actually thought (it was dark) that it was a hummingbird. I would hope that people employ humane methods of doing away with these critters because most living things have sensory perception and pain of being cut in half would most certainly be painful and death slow. I don't like the idea of having them destroy crops but we're smarter than they are and certainly could be more resourceful. The second fellow joined it's partner in its tunneling efforts and I guess the next thing I might see is a gigantic moth beating down my back door at night. Maybe an owl or some other night critter looking for a meal will spot it and take it home for dinner.

I am glad someone else appreciates them. You are right, they would be stars in Bugs.
I found 5 on a couple of volunteer tomato plants. They are living inside now. I think I will add some extra soil to the bottom so they can burrow in the house and then we can see them emerge into moths before we let them go to be owl bait.

I started a new raised garden, with all new soil. My tomato plants were doing amazingly well until these destructive worms came along. At first I thought something was chewing the leaves and green fruit off of my tomato plants. As I looked closer or actually from about 1 to 2 feet away from the vine, I found the culprit. These worms are an expert at camouflage and have a voracious appetite. I collected 20 of them off my plants and put them in a plastic pail. I left them out overnight. This morning I found something (birds or something) had a feast and left scraps and green slime all over inside the bucket. I'm told to spray Epsom salt water on the plants to get rid of them.

Thanks for this post! I found one on my tomatoes and had no idea what it was. I've blogged about it and pinned my pic and linked to your site for further info. ~ Maureen @

I discovered a tomato worm in my lawn this evening. I live in Lloydminster, Canada and this is the first one I've seen. I've checked my tomato and pepper plants but haven't seen any others. I was pruning some bushes and am wondering whether it might have been on one of the branches. Any ideas?

Great post and good information. Once I got over my initial disgust upon discovering them, learned some more about them, and took the time to look closely, found them quite fascinating and beautiful. The stripes, the suction cup feet, etc. And as much as I didn't want them devouring the rest of my plants, I was not willing to take them in as a pet, nor did I want to actively destroy them. So I let Nature take its course, with a little help. Cut the branches they were on, and put them on a plant tray with some more branches (to keep them busy, and keep them from wandering away) and placed the tray underneath my bird feeder. Saw some very happy blue jays that morning. Maybe just a coincidence. But the feeder is far from the tomato plants, so even if the worms managed to escape, it'll take them a while to get back there. I'm willing to risk it, and keep inspecting the plants daily. Amazing adventure, these couple of days!

Hi there, I am from Ontario, Canada. I just found these worms in the tomato garden and was sickened and excited at the same time. I have never seen anything like it in my 54 years. There were three of them in the same garden, however, none were found in other gardens near by. I researched and found this site. Yeah! I found it and am greatful for the information. I cannot kill them so I will let nature take its course. Two of them have already burrowed under the soil. Thanks again, Sue from Hamilton, ON Canada.

My son just found one of these and I thought it looked so neat in person. I wouldn't allow him to kill it b/c I thought it might be a monarch caterpillar or something cool like that. I think they are super neat looking and love your pictures of them. Thanks also for the tomato recipes as our tomatoes are just about to ripen and will bookmark this for some ideas!
Have a great day.

I have a small bag of "Cutlass" the original BT by Ecogen. Mix a very small amount with a quart of water, spray your tomato plants, Hornworms GONE!!!! They get sluggish, turn black and die in 2 days. Awesome stuff! I got my bag from a friend in the pesticide/chemical business. :)

This morning I found a huge tomato worm hanging from a top branch on my Raywood Ash tree. I kept seeing the black droppings but I didn't know what they were. They are also under my FanTex Ash trees. Something has been eating the leaves of the trees but I could never find anything. I will search for more worms now that I know what they are. I gave the worm to my neighbors chickens.

I've recently found this Hornworm eating away at our Sweet Potato Plants. With a colour difference being, these ones appear to have their main colour is flat black. (Where its main colours are green shown on pictures above and other sites searched). The white diagonal stripes with the yellow fading out are exactly the same, but where the circles on the sides are. (As shown in the pictures searched, all having a coloured rim with black centres). These Hornworms have a really glossy black. It states everywhere Hornworms are harmless. If these are different in colour? could they be different and harmful?

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