Gardening ~ Landscaping » Got Hornworms?

Got Hornworms?

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Tomato Horn Worms are pretty cool looking, but if you see one in your garden, be aware that a single Hornworm can decimate and tomato plant within HOURS. Here’s a simple way to get rid of them . . .

tomato hornworm eating

You might not even be sure what’s eating your tomato plants, at first glance, it may seem like deer or rabbits have eaten them because the leaves and stems are completely gone! After all, how can such a little critter create so much damage?

What are Tomato Horn Worms?

But these aren’t ordinary caterpillars, they’re Tomato Horn Worms, otherwise known as Manduca Quinquemaculata. It’s the larval stage of the Five-Spotted Hawkmoth.

manduca quinquemaculatus – five spotted hawk moth
Manduca quinquemaculatus – Five-spotted Hawk Moth, Creative Commons

The caterpillar stage of the Manduca quinquemaculata, also known as tomato hornworm, is characterized by eight V-shaped marks on each side and a horn at the rear.This caterpillar transforms into a large moths with a wingspan of four to six inches with colors ranging from brown and gold to pink and grey.

Telltale signs you have Hornworms

1 If your plant looks like it’s been eaten off by a large animal, leaves, and stems are missing overnight, or if it looks like someones been using a weed-wacker on it.

2 If there are greenish or black droppings on leaves. This is the remains of what used to be your beautiful healthy tomato plant. Below is a photo of a “fresh” hornworm turd. Notice how it’s brighter green in color.

tomato hornworm turd
Fresh Tomato Hornworm Turd
Aged Hornworm Dropping

It takes only one big hornworm to strip a tomato plant of its foliage in one or two days. In general, they work from the top to the bottom.

How to Get Rid of Tomato Horn Worms Easily

The absolute easiest way to ensure that you get rid of all the tomato hornworms in your garden is to wait until dusk. Once darkness settles upon your garden, grab a blacklight flaslight, slip on a pair of gloves (if you don’t like touching bugs), and head to the garden.

Shine the black light starting at the top of each plant and work your way down, plucking off the hornworms into a bucket. The hornworms will GLOW brightly under the light, giving away their location immediately.

tomato hornworms

You can get a hand held black light for about $10 onlineor at Walmart, lowes, etc. (By the way, once you’ve gotten rid of the hornworms, let the kids use the blacklight to blow Glow in the Dark bubbles in the backyard!)

If you try to just pull them off during the day, you’ll more than likely find them near the tops of your plants. You will also likely miss more than half of the worms because of their ability to blend in well with their surroundings.

Here is what we found on just three of our (10) plants:


Practical Uses for Tomato Hornworms

You may be wondering, are tomato hornworms good for anything? Once they pass the pesky caterpillar stage they do become beneficial pollinators. As such, it may be worth relocating them to a less devastating area away from the garden.

chicken treat tomato hornworms

Personally, we think they make great “treats” for our chickens, but you can drown them, squish them, or let them go somewhere else far, far away from your garden. My husband prefers to go catfishing with them!


Entice native birds such as downy woodpeckers, Baltimore orioles, bluebirds, flycatchers, and sparrows but placing these fat, juicy caterpillars in a shallow container near your feeders.

What’s your favorite way to get rid of tomato hornworms? We’d love to hear your ideas in the comments below.

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9 thoughts on “Got Hornworms?”

  1. On a sunny day I sift flour on the plants. They don’t like that at all and they fall to the ground. Then I put them in buckets and feed the birds with them.

  2. How to get rid of Tomato Worms?
    My dad did it the “Italian Style”. He use to cut off the section or small part of the branch that it was on and roll them up in newspaper. He would either put them in a metal pail or our backyard fireplace.

    He would just set it on fire and have us kids watch as he did it and said that he was “Roasting it”! That is a true story! I think about it and chuckle.

    We use to even get a kick out of it too! You talk about old fashion? That was back in the early 1950’s.

    It did work too!

  3. My chickens pick off the horn worms on the lower leaves. We have a family of mocking birds that loves tomato worms. We have had no significant damage from tomato worms this year. Stink bugs and thrips have been our biggest pests this year.

    We hand pick the stinkbugs. The thrips are so tiny and fast, but we must have thousands of them. They sucked our grape leaves dry.

    Any ideas?

  4. Yes! Just pulled a huge one off my plants the other day, he was as big around as my thumb and as long as my ring finger (I have big blocky work hands lol). But I didn’t know they would glow under black light, I will be trying this.

  5. I regularly sprinkle w DE. I’ve never had more than one on a plant, but when I find one, it’s a great treat for my chickens!!

      • DE is diatomacous earth.
        Diatomaceous earth is a mineral-based pesticide that contains approximately 3 percent magnesium, 5 percent sodium, 2 percent iron, 19 percent calcium, and 33 percent silicon, along with several other trace minerals. A naturally occurring siliceous sedimentary mineral comprised of the remains of algae-like plants called diatoms, diatomaceous earth is a fossilized water plant composed of siliceous compounds derived from fossilized water plants. It is then ground into a fine powder.

        Food-grade diatomaceous earth is low in crystalline silica and considered safe for humans. The filter-grade type is high in crystalline silica and toxic to humans.

        Both can safely be used to sprinkle on garden plants, landscaping, pets, etc for pest control. It works by dehydrating the exoskeleton of bugs, essentially suffocating them to death.

  6. The lifecycle of a tomato hornworm is about a month. After hatching, caterpillars feed for three to four weeks before reaching full size. Upon reaching maturity, caterpillars drop off their host plants and bury themselves in the soil to pupate. During mid-summer, caterpillars emerge after two weeks to start their second generation.

    That’s how they find your plants!


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