You got up one morning and found holes and bites in the tomatoes in your garden. The first thing that came to your mind is that some worm did it. You’re right. It’s the Tomato Worm. So how to get rid of Tomato Worms?
Here you will find out what Tomato Worms are and what they look like. Then follows an explanation of how to detect these pests in your garden and how to eliminate them.
We will also talk about prevention, namely how these worms can bypass your crops.
So let’s go!
Table of Contents
What Is Tomato Worm?
In order to better protect your crops, you need to get to know this worm in more detail.
Tomato Worm or Tomato Hornworm is a garden pest that likes to eat tomatoes the most, as its name suggests. It also likes to snack on eggplant, peppers, potatoes, and tobacco.
Tomato Hornworm is the larva of the Sphinx Moth. It can destroy crops very quickly, practically overnight.
But don’t worry, by learning about this catepillar, and getting to know its habits, methods of prevention, and elimination, you won’t have any problems.
Together with the Tabaco Hornworm, the Tomato Worm is one of the most common garden pests.
It is found in all parts of the USA, south Canada, and Australia.
What does Tomato Worm look like?
Tomato Hornworm can be up to 5 inches long. In its full size, it is the thickness of our finger. So it is a large caterpillar, one of the largest that comes to our gardens.
Tomato Worm is bright green in color, which is identical to the color of the surrounding plant leaves. In this way, it blends perfectly into its surroundings and is difficult to detect.
It has a lot of legs, and there are V-shaped stripes on its body.
On the back of the body, there is a black protrusion, which looks like a horn. Hence the name Hornworm. That horn is not poisonous and only serves to frighten potential attackers. Tomato Worms are not dangerous for humans and cannot sting.
Note: Since I couldn’t find images of the Tomato Worm, I posted images representing the Tobacco Worm. Both worms look almost identical. The difference is in the color of the horn and in the shape of stripes on the body. The Tomato worm has a black horn, and Tobacco Worm has a red horn (see the images). Tomato Worm also has white stripes in V shape, and Tobacco Worm has diagonal white stripes.
These worms eat non-stop and usually eat from the top of the plant. They are most active at night.
If you do not eliminate Tomato Worms, they will eventually fall from the plant to the soil next to the plant itself. There they bury themselves in the soil and spend the winter there.
Next spring, Tomato Hornworm will transform into a moth that will come out of the ground and lay eggs on (very possibly) that same plant.
How to Get Rid of Tomato Worms
Damage to plants caused by worms can be extensive, such as leaves with large holes, defoliation (destroyed leaves), and holes in fruits. You can expect to encounter these pests 3 times a year.
Then let’s see what are the ways of their prevention and elimination.
How Do You Find Them in the Garden?
In order not to be surprised one morning by the scene of destroyed vegetables, we should check out our crops every day. Tomato Worms are well camouflaged by blending in with their surroundings and are very difficult to detect.
Look for eggs and young caterpillars on the plants, on the back side of the leaves of the plant, and on the stems. They usually hide there from their predators.
Constantly observe the crops for holes and bites on the leaves, stems, fruits, and for eaten leaves and fruits.
You can find black droppings on the leaf. Follow that trail that may lead to a caterpillar.
By spraying the vegetables with water from a spray bottle you can see some squirming, most likely of Tomato Hornworms.
You can also use a light, a UV lamp that will illuminate the plant. Then the caterpillars will light up and be easily detected.
Natural Way to Get Rid of Tomato Worms
This method is generally reserved for smaller gardens and requires patience and time. So, simply remove the caterpillars by hand. If it is inconvenient for you, use plastic gloves.
Then crush them or put them in soapy water. You should not be frightened by their size. They are harmless to humans, as we have already said.
Tomato Worm Predators
Attract wasps to your garden by planting zinnias, dill, and thyme. Wasps can lay eggs on Tomato hornworms. That image of a caterpillar with white wasp larvae on its back is not rare to see. Wasp larvae eat the caterpillar until it dies.
Leave the worm with the larvae as it is, do not destroy it. By killing the worm you would also kill the wasps as beneficial insects. The caterpillar will thus continue to eat the crops to some extent, but will eventually die under the influence of the wasps.
Or if it suits you better, move the worm further away, and it will die in that place over time.
Green lacewings will be attracted by adding rocks to your garden.
Ladybugs also feed on this worm. You can attract them by planting dill, coriander, and cilantro.
Birds are also predators of Tomato Hornworms. They just love to feast on them. Place a bird feeder or birdbath in your garden to attract these helpers.
Homemade Natural Mixture
When it comes to larger gardens, it is best to make the mixture yourself.
Hot Peppers Mixture
Mix 4 hot peppers (habanero or cayenne), 2 tablespoons of olive oil, 2-3 cloves of garlic, and 1 tablespoon of dish soap. Blend this and let the mixture sit for a few hours.
Then put 2 tablespoons of this mixture plus 16 ounces of water in the spray bottle. Spray the plant.
Neem Oil Mixture
Neem oil is a vegetable oil obtained by pressing the seeds and fruits of the neem, a tree from the tropical region.
Mix 1 teaspoon of neem oil and ¼ teaspoon of liquid soap with 4 cups of water in a spray bottle.
Spray the vegetables every seven days, and repeat after rain. When you pick the tomatoes, clean them well of any spray residue.
Using Chemicals to Get Rid of Tomato Worms
Resorting to chemical means should be the last resort when nothing else succeeds in removing these harmful substances.
First, choose the type of insecticide. Some can be harmful to the beneficial insects.
- Botanical Bt (Bacillus Thuringiensis) is an organic insecticide. As a stomach poison, it will not destroy other plants or animals. It also successfully destroys other harmful caterpillars, such as cabbage worms.
- Pyrethrins are derived from the Chrysanthemum flower. It is an organic insecticide and is also useful against fleas, flies, moths, and ants.
- Spinosad is a natural substance made by soil bacteria. It is used against tomato worms, mosquitoes, ants, and spider mites.
The insecticide in the form of dust:
- no dissolution before application
- lasts longer and covers plants better
- inconvenient application in windy weather
Insecticides in the form of sprays must first be mixed with water because they are either concentrated or in powder. Then they can be applied to large areas in your garden.
Note: Always read the instructions on each insecticide.
However, it is best to do everything to prevent the appearance of these pests. The following is recommended:
- Till the soil at the beginning and end of the planting season. It has been proven that tilling the soil destroys 90% of the larvae.
- Companion planting: Plant vegetables together with dill, basil, marigolds, and borage. Borage also enriches the soil with Potassium, Calcium, and other minerals. Tomato Worms prefer to eat those plants rather than tomatoes. So you have more time to eliminate them. These plants also attract predatory insects.
- Zinnias also attract predatory insects.
- Search the garden, leaves, and stems for eggs and young caterpillars.
- Constantly observe the crops, whether there are holes and bites on the leaves, stems, and fruits.
- Use row covers, and black plastic for crops. Black plastic mulch around plants does not allow worms to get out of the soil.
- Rotate your crops each season. The larvae live in the soil under the plant, so when the next season comes, they return to the same plant.
More Important Facts About Tomato Worms
When we talk about the Tomato Hornworm, we can’t help but mention another very similar pest, the Tabacco Hornworm. It is also important to understand the life cycle of these caterpillars.
Tomato Hornworm and Tobacco Hornworm
These caterpillars are the main garden pests. They are two different insects that are in the larval state.
They are very similiar, so at first glance, it’s hard to tell which is which.
You can see their differences in the table below:
|Tomato Hornworm||Tobacco Hornworm|
|larva of the Manduca quinquemaculata (sphinx moth)||larva of the Manduca sexta|
|has a black horn.||has a red horn.|
|green margins on white stripes on the body||black margins on white stripes on the body|
|white stripes in V shape on the body||white diagonal stripes on the body|
|found in the region from northern Mexico to the southern Canada. Widespread in North America.||found throughout the USA (more often in southern states), southern Canada, Central America, and Carribbean.|
Both caterpillars feed on tomatoes, but they also attack peppers, eggplants, tobacco, and potatoes. They can destroy tomato crops very quickly. Although they are two different insects, Tomato Hornworm and Tobacco Hornworm behave similarly. Also the method of their elimination is the same.
These caterpillars blend in with the environment with the green color of their bodies, so they are difficult to detect. Tomato Worm and Tobacco Worm are not dangerous and will not sting.
Life Cycle of Tomato Hornworm (and Also Tobacco Hornworm)
After the adult moths have mated, in late spring, the females lay eggs on the back side of young plant leaves. They do this in order to hide from predators (potential attackers). The eggs are quite large. After that, larvae will hatch from the eggs.
This is most interesting form for us. Larvae, ie small caterpillars, emerge from the eggs. The caterpillar is bright green in color. There is a horn on the back of the body.
Caterpillars appear in early and late summer. They will grow very quickly, feeding non-stop.
In early autumn, the larva will become a pupa. In that condition, it will overwinter in the soil near the host plants.
Adult form – Moth
A large Sphinx Moth hatches from the pupa. It will appear in the spring of the following year. Then they will rise from the ground and lay eggs on the plant.
The moth has a wingspan of up to 5.1 inches (13 cm). The wings are brown and gray.
This insect has a proboscis up to 10 cm long (tubular mouthpart for food). The proboscis is used for extracting the nectar from flowers. Most often, from large flowers.
The Sphinx Moth is also known as the Hawk moth or Hummingbird moth.
The difference between M. Quinquemaculata and M. sexta is the number of spots on abdomens.
In areas with high temperatures, several generations of these insects can appear during the year.
Sphinx moth Classification
Tomato Worm is the larva of the Sphinx Moth (Manduca quiquemaculata).
Species: Manduca quiquemaculata
Synonyms for Manduca quinquemaculata
There are various Latin names that refer to this moth. Here they are:
- Sphinx 5-maculatus Haworth
- Phlegethontius celeus
- Phlegethontius quinquemaculatus
- Protoparce quinquemacalatus
Now you know how to get rid of Tomato Worms. As you have seen, prevention is the first thing you should pay attention to.
If they have already had a harmful effect on your crops, then find Tomato Worms and eliminate them. You can do it naturally or, in the last case, chemically.
You are now well trained in the fight against these pests. Then go in search of them and don’t let them spoil the fruits of your labor.