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The Garden Minute: The Voracious Tomato Hornworm

In the Garden Minute series of articles, we discuss gardening, foraging and pest topics in small bites of 500 words or less, quick and easy to read for busy people.

Gardens are dens of intrigue and surprise. What you see isn’t always what you get, and what you don’t see can get the best of you—or your plants.

Take the Tomato Hornworm, for example. Clinging to tomato vines, this wily larva chomps away unseen because it is the same bright green as the plants it devours.

Unchecked, the hungry hunk will leave your plants stripped and your tomato shelf bare.

Hopefully, you will spot and pluck the critter before too much damage is done. Your chickens, if you have them, will gladly accept the Hornworm as a tasty snack. If not, a bucket of soapy water is a good place to drop the pest. Best not to do a catch and release if you want your garden to grow.

Yes, these pesky critters love tomatoes, but they also go for potatoes, peppers, eggplant and tobacco plants. As for the spikey horn, it is at the tail rather than the head, and its purpose is largely to confuse predators with a “which end is up” dilemma.

Like so much in nature, there is more to the Tomato Hornworm’s story. If left alone, the hornworm would ultimately transform into a dramatic Sphinx moth with a wide wingspan and the ability to dart and hover like a hummingbird.

Moths, and their butterfly relatives, do good work as pollinators, and they are food for bats, birds, and small mammals. Still, if it’s tomatoes we want to eat, the Tomato Hornworm has to go.

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Article and tomato hornworm photos by Leslie Wootten

Sphinx moth photo by Laura Ward

References (and further information):

The University of Arizona Cooperative Extension.The Tomato Apocalypse - Reference. Retrieved from:

The University of Arizona Cooperative Extension. Common Tomato Disorders Under Desert Conditions. Retrieved from

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