So you’re not interested in plucking these pests from your garden because you think they’re cute or maybe you’re superstitious. Whatever the reason, you might be wondering if caring for the tomato hornworm is any different from other worms. Actually, if the tomato hornworm remains outdoors in its element, you don’t have to do anything special to keep it alive — much like most creatures found in nature.
If tomato hornworms are in your garden, chances are, they love what you’re growing. The tomato hornworm loves dill, potatoes, eggplant, peppers, and of course, tomatoes. Now, if you’re like most gardeners and you would like to save your plants from the tomato hornworm, continue reading to learn more about the tomato hornworm and how to control it.
Tomato hornworms are one of nature’s two most popular types of hornworms. The other is the tobacco worm. The scientific name for the tomato hornworm is Manduca quinquemaculata. While tomato hornworms are not considered harmful to humans, they are extremely harmful to plants, vegetables, and landscaping. Tomato hornworms appetites’ are extremely healthy, so they will nosh on your tomatoes, leaves, and fruits for hours and hours on end if you allow them to. In addition to tomatoes, tobacco and tomato hornworms are also attracted to eggplant, potato, and pepper.
Adult tomato hornworms are typically 3 to 5 inches long and they have a large black horn on their rear ends. This horn may look like it can do plenty of damage, but its actually pretty harmless. If you suspect that a tomato worm has bitten you, chances are it wasn’t a hornworm that bit you. A tomato hornworm (or any hornworm or insect for that matter) will do whatever it can to protect itself – especially if you handle it for too long. However, it doesn’t defend itself by “biting.” A hornworm will spit out the contents of its stomach, it will wiggle and thrash about, and it may even wrap itself around your finger, but it does not have the capability to sting or pierce the skin. It is important to keep in mind, however, that the hornworms’ “wrap” can be quite uncomfortable, so it’s best not to handle them for too long.
Another issue with handling tomato hornworm for too long has to do with parasite infestations. While the tomato worm may be infected by a number of parasites, the most common is the braconid wasp. The larva hatch on the tomato worm and it feeds on the worm’s insides until the wasp is ready to hatch. The cocoons are quite visible to the naked eye and they look like raised white bumps on the tomato hornworms body. It’s probably not a good idea to handle a tomato worm that shows signs of a parasite infestation, but leaving it in your garden can be a good thing. Once the wasps emerge from their cocoons, they will kill the tomato worm host then seek out other tomato hornworms to infest. This natural enemy is an effective treatment for tomato worm infestations.
If you have a small garden and if you don’t notice white protrusions on any tomato hornworm that you see, it’s ok to quickly handpick the tomato hornworm from your garden. You can drop them in a bucket of water or snip them in half. This is considered an effective method of tomato worm control in small gardens. Other effective methods of controlling tomato hornworms in your garden include: rototilling and biological treatment. Rototilling means to turn up the soil after harvest. This will destroy any pupae that may be there. Biological treatment with Bacillus thuringensis, or BT (e.g., Dipel, Thuricide), will kill the tomato hornworm and it is especially effective on smaller larvae. BT must be used with extreme caution because it can be harmful to humans.
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