That is kind of a sad blog post title, isn’t it. But it’s time to talk about the devastation of the Tobacco Hornworm. First, a clarification: I originally thought that I was dealing with the Tomato Hornworm (Manduca quinquemaculata), but truly, the caterpillar that is chomping on my tomatoes is the Tobacco Hornworm (Manduca sexta). The two are very closely related, and are often found on the same plants, primarily members of the family Solanaceae (tomatoes, peppers, eggplants). You can distinguish them by appearance: the Tomato Hornworm has eight V-shaped marks on each side and their horn is straighter and blue-black in color, whereas the Tobacco Hornworm sports seven diagonal white lines on the sides and a curved red horn (below).
Having never experienced Hornworms before, I had no idea what to expect of them, only that I had been told by countless Missouri gardeners to “just wait”. On Friday morning, I went out to check on my sweet little tomato plants as usual, and instead of finding beautiful, lush green foliage, I was greeted by this sight:
Look at that defoliation! No wonder – the Tobacco Hornworm can grow to 4 inches long! You might also find their poop on your plants:
If so, look closely, particularly on the underside of leaves, because there is probably one or more of these eating machines lurking on your tomato plants!
My action plan? I’ve started a find and pick regimen that involves going out into the garden several times a day (I’ve heard that dusk and dawn are the best times to look), hand picking the caterpillars off my tomato plants (creepy!), and feeding them to my chickens. The chickens are giving them mixed reviews. I can’t blame them. I don’t think I’d want to eat a 4 inch caterpillar either!
Next time In the Garden: Squash Bugs – They’re Here!