Carnage in the Garden

Hornworm 1

By the time I discovered this not-so-little hornworm, and ten others just like him, on one of our tomato plants this afternoon, they had already partially eaten at least a dozen green tomatoes and the leaves on several stems.

Hornworms on Paul RobesonNormally, the tell-tale sign of a hornworm infestation is massive foliage loss, but we noticed that the developing fruit near the top of plant had been chewed up. Unless the rabbits had learned to climb, I couldn’t blame them. Then we noticed hornworm poop on the ground.

Hornworm in action

Upon finding fresh black droppings, we began to look more closely …

Hornworm 2

Yikes! Would you look at that thing!   (this one is up-side-down)

Hornworm in action 2

Despite their enormous size, hornworms are very difficult to spot, their camouflage coloration allows them to blend right in with the plant. As much as I hate these things for chewing up my favorite tomatoes, I have to admit, their coloration is pretty incredible.

Hornworm Identification

This is one of the smaller hornworms we found. The head with white mouthparts is on the right and the red “horn” is on the left. These buggers are HUGE!

Hornworms in bucketAfter looking high and low, we found eleven hornworms on our Paul Robeson tomato plant. Of all of our tomato plants, these buggers had to go and infest my favorite. Go figure! Anyhow, after plucking them off the plant (not an easy job due to their suction cup feet), I decapitated each one with my pruning shears – an unpleasant, but quick job.

Hornworms also feed on peppers, eggplant and potatoes. To prevent a reinfestion next year, integrated pest management guidelines recommend roto-tilling the soil after harvest to destroy burrowing larvae. According to the University of Minnesota, tillage has been shown to cause up to 90% mortality. Finally, if you find a hornworm that is covered in tiny white cocoons, do NOT pluck and kill it. That hornworm is being preyed upon by beneficial or “good” insects. Simply put, the beneficial insects will eat the hornworms, thus doing the dirty work for you. For more useful IMP hornworm information, click here.

Click here for some incredible photographs and even more interesting information.

Good night and good luck!


3 thoughts on “Carnage in the Garden

  1. YUCK! I have always found them facinating, but oh they are so destructive. We grow borage in our tomato beds and there are never any tomato horn worms! I read it years ago and it does work. Start the borage from seed right next to your tomato plants and you will never see another infestation like that again. I also plant basil, french marigolds and calendula. The borage is the one that will take care of those nasty critters…:Great pictures of them though:-)

  2. Gosh, look how big and fat those hornworms got on all of your lovely tomatoes. That shot of those hungry mouth parts is particularly creepy. I will be getting the borage seeds out too, to avoid such hair raising sights.

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