EWWWW! I have been keeping watch for their arrival. Then I spotted one. Then I spotted another and another! A total of three hornworms on two different potted tomato plants in my garden. They have arrived. Manduca quinquemaculata!!
It always seems to go that way. I don’t see them at all. Then I see one and suddenly my eye is trained for hornworm spotting and I see them everywhere.
They’re gross. I’m really not too icky about insects and spiders, but tomato hornworms are gross. I hate to touch them. Several years ago I bought a pair of plastic, giant, tweezers in the kitchen department at a local store. I just hang them on my tomato cages during the season so I can pull the hornworms off. I also use them for picking squash bugs off my pumpkins and other squash.
I’m afraid of that horn thing. And when I see it, I think about one my favorite childhood songs, One-eyed, one-horned flying purple people eater…sure looks strange to me. Now, I know everyone says they can’t sting or poke your with it but I’m not taking any chances. I recently stepped barefooted onto the bristles of another large larvae/caterpillar that a bird dropped onto my patio and it stung like the dickens. I mean OUCH. I’ll have to do another post about that caterpillar as I have found three in my yard.
I’m also a HUGE Halloween freak, so I love this song each fall. You might be thinking, but it doesn’t fly…but the moth who laid the egg sure does! Actually the large moths (known as sphinx or hummingbird moths) are quite mesmerizing and I have observed them at length among my four o’clocks in the evening.
One time, while an undergraduate student at the University of Missouri, I found a hornworm pupa in the soil where I was digging. I put it in a glass vial filled with alcohol for my entomology class and stuck it in the pocket of my leather vest. I immediately forgot it was there. Some weeks later, I crushed the pocked, the vial, and the pupa all over my vest. Yes, I still have the vest. And there is still a slight stain on the pocket. The moral of this story? Don’t put pupa or worms in your pocket or they may have the last laugh on you.
Before killing and disposing of the worms that I find, I check to see if they have been parasitized by the braconid wasp, Cotesia congregatus. (see Univ of MN link below for image) If they are, I put them somewhere where they can’t access my plants and then hope the beneficial wasps will hatch and start eating more of the hornworms in my garden. Otherwise, I sometimes leave them out where the birds can find them or drop them in a bucket of soapy water. I have about 30 tomato plants this year and I would never spray or apply powders for this many plants. If I had to I would use the most organic option available. Just check them about twice a week and remove as soon as you see them because they will de-leaf your plants quickly. The University of Minnesota Extension Service has a good website with information about these common, annual pests.
If your eyes have a hard time finding these green boogers, look for their brown poop droppings or stems that are stripped of leaves.
Grab your hand lens to observe these critters up close. Their mouth parts are so cool and/or hideous depending on your take. This is a great observation for kids too! Its a good opportunity to teach about the lifecycle of insects and the difference between insect pests and beneficials.
Stay cool out there and KEEP ON GROWIN’,
The Garden Maiden
P.S. Before I submitted this post, I went back outside to re-check my plants. Guess what? after a few minutes of observation, I found another! Gotcha!!
All images and text copyright 2014 The Garden Maiden
If you can plant Borage (Borago officinalis) alongside your tomatoes the hornworms will leave you alone (and you can eat the Borage!)