Tomatoe Worms: Human Contact and Your Garden

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Tomatoe worms (also tomato worm) are one of nature’s most popular types of hornworms. The scientific name for tomatoe worm is Manduca quinquemaculata. Also called “tomato hornworm,” tomatoe worms are not considered harmful to humans, but they are extremely harmful to plants, vegetables, and landscaping. The Tomatoe worms appetite is extremely strong, so they will eat through tomatoes, leaves, and fruits at a rapid pace and for hours, even days. In addition to tomatoes, tomatoe worms are also attracted to eggplant, potato, and pepper.

Handling Tomatoe Worms

Adult tomatoe worms are typically three to five inches long and they have a large black horn on the rear end. This horn may look like it can do plenty of damage, but its actually pretty harmless. If you suspect that a tomatoe worm has bitten you, chances are it wasn’t a hornworm. Hornworms, including tomatoe worms, will do whatever they can to protect themselves – especially if you handle them for too long. However, the tomatoe worm does not 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 ability to sting or pierce the skin. It is important to keep in mind, however, that the tomatoe worm’s “wrap” can be quite uncomfortable, so it’s best not to handle them for too long, if at all.

Another issue with handling tomatoe worms for too long has to do with parasites. Tomatoe worms may be infected with any number of parasites at any given time, but the most common tomatoe worm parasite is the braconid wasp. The larva hatch on the tomatoe 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 tomatoe worms body. It’s probably not a good idea to handle a tomatoe 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 tomatoe worm host then seek out other tomato worms to infest. This natural enemy is an effective treatment for tomatoe worm infestations.

Controlling Tomatoe Worms in Your Garden

If you have a small garden and you don’t notice white protrusions on any tomatoe worms that you see, it’s ok to quickly handpick the tomatoe worms from your garden. You can drop them in a bucket of water or snip them in half. This is considered an effective method of tomatoe worm control in small gardens. Other effective methods of controlling tomatoe worms 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 tomatoe worms 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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Author: The Top Worm

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