If you’ve raised tomatoes for any length of time, you’ve probably experienced the devastation of the Tomato or Tobacco Hornworm. I originally thought that I was dealing with the Tomato Hornworm (Manduca quinquemaculata), but truly, the caterpillar that is defoliating my tomato and tomatillo plants is the Tobacco Hornworm (Manduca sexta). The two are very closely related and can both be 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 reddish horn (below).
Look at that defoliation! No wonder! Tomato and tobacco hornworms can grow to 4 inches long! You might also find their poop on your plants:
If so, look closely, particularly on the underside of stems, because there is probably one or more of these eating machines lurking on your tomato plants!
Luckily, adult tomato and tobacco hornworms are very easy to control by handpicking. I check my tomato plants twice a day (dusk and dawn are the best times to look), hand pick the caterpillars off my tomato plants, and feed them to my chickens. There is nothing more entertaining than watching a flock of chickens fight over a four inch long caterpillar! If you don’t have chickens, simply crush the caterpillar, or drop it into a jar of soapy water.
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