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Jul 18, 2016
Now who’s eating my tomatoes?!
Tiffany Heater  Account Manager | Burpee

The season has been going great, your tomatoes are growing just fine, and suddenly one day you go out to your garden and there are a ton of leaves missing off your tomato plants! Who is after your garden this time?! You search over and under the leaves and along the stem and finally you come across this guy who looks like a cross between a caterpillar and a unicorn, with way too many “eyes” along its flank.


You found a tomato hornworm! Don’t break out the pesticides just yet. These little buggers tend to be solitary snackers of tomato, pepper, eggplant and and tomatillo plants. And they can easily be picked off. They make a tasty treat for chickens and birds, but before you go paying him back for the damage he caused, there are a few more things to know:
All caterpillars become butterflies or moths at some point, and the tomato hornworm moth is quite pretty. So if you want to see this attractive moth in your flower garden, you can toss the caterpillar out of your veggie garden to grow up somewhere else in the yard. NOTE: That pretty moth is not just out to play in your flowers. Its life goal is to make the next generation, which will become very hungry caterpillars!

There is a tiny wasp that preys on the tomato horn worm. It lays its eggs inside the caterpillar and then they emerge as tiny white cocoons along the tomato hornworm’s back as they mature. The cocoons look like grains of rice. If you spot a tomato hornworm with these cocoons on it’s back and you are looking to decrease your hornworm population, let it stay in your garden. Its days are numbered anyway, and if you allow the parasitic wasps to mature, they will be heading out to hunt more tomato hornworms in no time.

What was the fate of the green hornworm in the photo above? He hadn’t caused much damage yet so I decided to leave him on the tomato plant that I found him on. I tied a ribbon on the plant stake so I would remember where to look for him later. Three days later, he was missing with no further damage to the tomato plant. Maybe I overlooked him, maybe a passing bird brought him home for dinner, maybe he is immobilized by parasitic wasps. Only the hornworm knows for sure.

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