The Tomato Worm and Its Cocoon

The tomato worm pupa or cocoon is brown, hard, and around an inch and a half long. The pupa or cocoon waits out the winter season (overwinters) and hatches in the spring. Tomato and tobacco worms are two of nature’s most popular types of hornworms. Their scientific names are Manduca quinquemaculata (tomato hornworm) and Manduca Sexta (tobacco hornworm). While tomato and tobacco hornworms are not considered harmful to humans, they are extremely harmful to plants, vegetables, and landscaping. Tomato and tobacco 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 and tobacco hornworms are typically 3 to 5 inches long and they have a large horn on their rear ends. This horn may look like it can do plenty of damage, but its actually pretty harmless. The tobacco hornworm has a red horn on its rear end and the tomato hornworm sports a black horn.

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If you have ever suspected that you have been bitten by a tomato or tobacco hornworm, chances are it wasn’t a hornworm that bit you. A tomato or tobacco 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 and tobacco hornworms for too long has to do with parasite infestations. While the hornworm may be infected by a number of parasites, the most common is the braconid wasp. The larva hatch on the hornworm and it feeds on the hornworms 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 hornworms body. It’s probably not a good idea to handle a hornworm 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 hornworm host then seek out other hornworms to infest.

If you have a small garden and if you don’t notice white protrusions on any tomato or tobacco hornworms that you may see, it is ok to quickly handpick the hornworms from your garden. This is considered an effective method of hornworm control in small gardens. Another effective method of controlling tomato and tobacco hornworms in your garden is the use of insecticides.

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Author: The Top Worm

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