Hunting Hornworm

Hornworm HangingIt’s hunting season here in Oklahoma; no license needed and weaponry is just a matter of personal taste.  Some of us on the ranch kill with our bare hands, but me, I don’t have the stomach for the “wet work.”  I prefer the bottom of my shoe.  Here on the 160 we’ve instituted a Zero Tolerance Program (ZTP) for this particular varmint.  The prey: the crafty, conniving and voracious hornworm.

Where do hornworms come from?  Large (and really quite beautiful) Sphinx moths deposit eggs on the undersides of tomato leaves and the larvae eventually chew their way out of the eggs and into the green Eden of healthy, succulent tomato plants.  The tiny caterpillars become fat, juicy and quite large (3″-4″) as they feast on the tender leaves.  They seem to love to dangle from the very tops of the plants, but it takes patience to spot these critters.  They are the color of the plants on which they feed, but the tiny spike at the ends of their bodies gives them away.

Hornworms can quickly and efficiently strip bare the branches.  The caterpillars – if my shoe doesn’t find them first – will molt four times before going walkabout.  They find some nice, comfy soil, dig in and during the final molt a green skin forms which eventually – buried – will turn hard and brown.  After about three weeks, the skin splits and an adult moth emerges – to begin the cycle of destruction all over again.

Hornworm Close Up

Hornworm on High

43 thoughts on “Hunting Hornworm

  1. Bradley P

    thanks for the information on hornworms. I will be keeping my eyes open for them. Any I find will meet the fame fate as the ones you find: being squished.

  2. Robin Jean Marie

    Good luck with that, Ann! We’ve got those pesky varmits here, too, but *so far* I haven’t found any lurking in my own tomato plants.
    Still, my shoes are ready!
    Fantastic photos, by the way, even if the subject is unwanted. 😉

  3. Somer

    At first glance, I couldn’t even see the little dirtbag in the photo. Crazy how something so small can be so destructive :/

      1. Somer

        I kill spiders, wasps, and mice and voles (I know so mean, but they invade my house otherwise)….. Shhh. Does that make me a vegan ratbag? Should I be lovingly luring them with vegan treats and packaging them up and taking them to the woods?

      1. tinykitchenstories

        Ugh. Me too! I had those a few years ago and now keep everything in airtight containers. But I still can’t look at a bag full of rice without imagining you-know-what…

  4. elise

    ick. those pics and the description really grossed me out…now ill be on hyper patrol…my poor little tomato plant is just a young thing still.
    i need a volunteer to squish them for me though. i dont think i could do it.

  5. evervescence

    Ewww!!! I have already had a lot of trouble with army worms, now some kind of strange beetle looking creatures. I wonder if these hornworms are next? They are quite camouflage! I thought I was just looking at a curled up tomato leaf with black dots on it, I didn’t even realize I was looking at one of the caterpillars in that middle picture. I hate squishing anything so I opt for drowning in soapy water…but I still hate doing that too, I can’t watch. Thanks for the information.

  6. tearoomdelights

    I must admit that I’m with Rachel, I rather like caterpillars, although I know they are a complete menace. They remind me of my childhood, picking them up and being fascinated by the way they move. I suppose if I had tomato plants that were being destroyed by them I might feel quite differently, but I do think your hornworms are really quite pretty (sorry!). I hope they crawl off and find their food elsewhere.

  7. biggsis

    I used to keep a couple of thin boards lying around the garden for hornworm smashing. It is a nasty business because they are big and juicy, but somebody has to do it! Good luck my friend!

  8. Veggiewitch

    There is a pesticide you can make with garlic, ginger and green chilies. You whiz them up, drain the juices, and spray all over your plants. It deters the critters that would feast on your crops. The pulp would be tasty, too, in a vegan gumbo. ♥

    Neem is a pretty good pesticide if you can get your hands on the cakes or the oil. ♥

  9. Brittany

    I find these oddly creepy, however I would much rather have these eating my Swiss chard instead of the snails. Finding a snail in my produce is terrifying.

  10. Lou Dwan

    Ew moths ick. Moths are better than the cane toads here – a lot easier to squish! Ew I get the shudders just thinking of bugs/toads/creepy crawlies 🙂

  11. Sophie33

    Thanks for introducing this worm to me! I also have several tomato plants & check the leaves daily on insects, etc! I will be on the lookout for this nasty one! Great pics too!

  12. Karin

    thanks for info and pics ! i found a few of them in my garden this summer. while knowing what they do, i didn’t hesitate to squish them dead under my shoe !


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