dang tomato worms...!

MissKitty1393(CA 10)June 26, 2005


first time posting - hope someone can help. I have two tomato plants growing in huge pots on my deck. They are doing great, in fact the cherry tomato is spectacular. But I can see the black droppings that mean the horned worms are on there somewhere. The last few years when I've grown tomatoes like this, I was able to spot the worms and remove by hand (2 plants,Ugh, Gross, but not hard). But this time I CANNOT see the lil' buggers. Even running some water over the leaves isn't working.

Suggestions? before the beasties suck the life out of the plants? Thank you!!


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jerseyboy428(z7 NJ)

I found one last year that was huge (and disgusting). It had white eggs alllll over its back. It was one of the most morbid things I've ever seen. I just cut the branch off. I read that they tried to hide under the leaves in the daytime so they're not spotted, and that they are usually all over the plant in the nighttime. Try going out with a flashlight at night and find the little sucker. Good luck.

    Bookmark   June 27, 2005 at 10:13AM
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I'm having to search for these evil things too. I find their poop then starting looking for them around that area. I've found some tiny, tiny ones, and some bigger ones...luckily, none so big with eggs on it's back.

    Bookmark   June 27, 2005 at 10:44AM
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sunflower71(z7 NC)

The ones with wasp eggs on their backs are already goners, they don't eat much once parasitized, so from the tomato grower's perspective, eggs on their back is actually a good thing, as gross as it looks.

If it's a hornworm and you can't find it soon, it will quickly be big enough to see from outer space, and then you'll get the beastie. :)

Good luck on finding it! I am confident that you will be able to spot it before it does significant damage, since your plants are otherwise large and healthy.


    Bookmark   June 27, 2005 at 7:02PM
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MissKitty1393(CA 10)

~~I found one last year that was huge (and disgusting). It had white eggs alllll over its back. It was one of the most morbid things I've ever seen. ~~

Oh. My. God.
Glad I didn't read THAT before bed last night!

good to hear that means they are goners, though.

Thanks for the suggestions, I'll try with the flashlight tonight! Ugh.

    Bookmark   June 28, 2005 at 1:44AM
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I just wish I could find some on my plants! They are most fun to rear and become a really cool moth. If you find some, give them to someone interested in insects. By the time they are large enough to be easily spotted, they have usually done most of their feeding anyway. The caterpillars only grow so big and feed so long, then they leave the plant and look for a place to pupate. Hornworms pupate underground.

There's a good chance your caterpillar has already left.

    Bookmark   June 28, 2005 at 2:32PM
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jerseyboy428(z7 NJ)

Yeah once I found out what it was last year I read everything I could. Luckily I never found another one. Just that one was all I needed. When I cut the branch off I put it on the floor of my deck and just let it crawl around on the branch. Once the eggs are planted, the worm has a very slow death. And from what I saw, the bugger didn't do -any- visible damage to my plants. Even if you found 5 of these things, it is hardly anything to worry about as there are worst tomato killers.

    Bookmark   June 29, 2005 at 9:25AM
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acjazz28(z8 TX)

I had the same unfortunate experience just today. I noticed one of my tomato vines totally stripped of leaves and blossoms a couple of days ago...this is my first time growing tomatoes so I wasn't sure what was causing this. I looked over the plant and couldn't find anything, so I pruned it back and went on my way. This morning I was talking to a friend on the phone (grew up on a farm, knows about pests on veggies) and he was telling me about a big ugly worm that feast on tomato leaves and was describing how it looks. Then I walked to my patio to look at my garden, opened the blinds and saw the fattest, longest, OOOOOGLIEST bright green worm I've ever seen wrapped around one of my tomato vines, eating without a care. It had stripped three more of my suckers and was working on another one when I discovered it. It was so horrid looking that I couldn't even bring myself to touch it. My friend whom I was talking to on the phone ended up coming over and disposing of that ugly thing. I guess the garlic spray doesn't help repel those worms, huh? What else should I use to keep those fat ugly feasters away from my mater plant? I don't wish to see ANY MORE of those ugly worms if I don't have to...

    Bookmark   June 30, 2005 at 10:46PM
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MissKitty1393(CA 10)

Yesterday must have been *big worm* day -- I still can't find the buggers on the tomato plant - it's too dense with growth! - but I was checking my bell pepper, noticed it didn't look right -- and there, right on the top, was a HUGE, butt ugly tomato worm, chomping away. It had already destroyed a lot of the top of the pepper plant.

I'm grossed out by the worms, but I got my gloves and shears. I had the hardest damn time getting the worm off of the plant, though! It did NOT want to let go, and it was "chattering" -- anyone ever heard this?!?! like a freakin' horror film! every time I got one part of it loose, the other part grabbed back onto the plant. Finally got it off, took it over by my bird feeder, cut it in half (double EEEEW!) and then backed off & watched the blue jays (scrub jays) swoop down and have lunch. Gross, gross, gross!

    Bookmark   July 1, 2005 at 2:47PM
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Miss Kitty you gotta be like a marine scout just stare into that brush and look in one area for a while they are under the leaves once you get a bead on them they will start to show up every where. I aint never heard one make any noise and I have picked 1,000,000,000 of them. That noise you heard musta been from your teeth or maybe your knees knokin to gether. Welcome to growin maters.


    Bookmark   July 1, 2005 at 4:06PM
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Why are you all calling these big caterpillars "ugly" and "gross" anyway? They are in reality, quite beautiful and match the leaves of the plants they feed on. I already said one cat is no big deal and even Jerseyboy agrees. If you find the really BIG ones, leave them alone! They won't eat much more--then they will leave!

I have too many problems with fungi, bacteria and even viruses, so killing off sphinx moths is totally unneccessary. As I said above, give those cats to neighbors or school teachers who will take care of them!

    Bookmark   July 2, 2005 at 12:23AM
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MissKitty1393(CA 10)

LOL - well, no offense TomatoWorm59, and I suppose beauty is in the eye of the beholder.... :-)

but, personally, I want my lovely 'maters to savor this year! and can now report that I finally spotted a *HUGE* hornworm at the top of my cherry tomatoes today. I brought my reading glasses out with me (LOL!), and gave the plant a good kick at the base of the pot - which must have startled the worm, because I saw several worm poops fall, and that helped me pinpoint the bugger.

In deference to TomatoWorm59, I did toss the hornworm over the fence into the empty field at the back of my property instead of offering him up to the birds.

Then I repeated the formula, whacking the pot on the other 'mater, and again, dropping poops betrayed the presence of another hornworm. Hopefully this will be the end of the invasion.... ?

Oh, and we had the first 'maters off the cherry tomato, with dinner last night: some fresh, right off the bush, and some on the veggie skewers that we like to make on the grill. YUMMY!!! now, waiting for the Best Boys to get ripe enough... they're close but not ready yet.


    Bookmark   July 3, 2005 at 9:31PM
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Well, Kitty, look around for some weeds in the nightshade family to place the next hornworms on, especially if you find a younger caterpillar. Here, hornworms are not common at all, and as much as I love sphinx moths, I welcome any and all to my garden. Actually, my garden is more of a small truck patch...LOL!
No, you didn't "scare the poop out of the cat," but rather just dislodged already fallen droppings. A frightened or disturbed hornworm will usually rear up in a defensive, erect posture, giving them their name of "sphinx." All sphinx moth cats have a "horn" or spike. In some species, the filamental spike drops off as the caterpillar grows. The grape or Virginia creeper-eating hornless hornworms are among my most favorite. I rear/breed sphinx and giant silk moths.

    Bookmark   July 4, 2005 at 11:04AM
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Sheila_GeorgiaPeach(Lincolnton GA)

Two years ago, I found 2 tomato hornworms in my garden--last year, I must have picked off 15-20. The difference between those 2 years is that the first year I had no Dill and the second year I had Dill in my garden (next to my tomatoes!). Tomato Hornworms love dill. I still wanted some Dill this year, but instead of planting them in my garden, I planted them in big pots, way away from my garden. Hopefully if I have them again this year, the Dill being so far away from my garden, will lure them away from the garden.

    Bookmark   July 5, 2005 at 9:33AM
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That's news to me, Sheila. Maybe that's what I'm missing. I plant more dill than I'll ever use--as habitat for the beautiful black swallowtail butterfly larvae.
Now, if you want to keep Manduca larvae away from your maters, plant lots of cilantro. If you're into salsa, you will appreciate the cilantro.

    Bookmark   July 5, 2005 at 9:49PM
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cecropia7(IL zone5)

Tomato Worm59, it's wonderful to see a fellow insect-lover on these forums! Every one of them, pest or not, has some good quality... even when they demolish my veggies, try to eat me or give me the creeps...

And I too am waiting impatiently to see black swallowtail larvae on my dill! But luckily a friend gave me a couple Idolomantis diabolica to keep me occupied for the summer. So beautiful! Do you trade/sell in moth cocoons or eggs? I always enjoyed getting eggs in the mail and rearing out those lovely saturniid moths.

    Bookmark   July 6, 2005 at 12:34AM
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Hey Cecropia! Your name says it all. I had absolutely no luck with Cecropia cats at all this year. I spent over $130 on ova and have nothing to show for it! Still, I have Luna, Poly and a few Io's.

I am patiently waiting for my tobacco worms. I never get tomato worms here. I have some Virginia creeper sphinx ordered. I have not even seen any lineatas, which is very unusual. I think this is just a bad year for sphingids.

I sure don't mind the tomato and pepper-eating hornworms. I have more than eniough plants for them. Yes, they were here first, and if not for their attractiomn to garden nightshades, the caterpillars are essential for control of noxious weeds in that family. The big hornworms are a favorite of many kids and science teachers. I only wish those seriously NOT wanting these marvelous creatures in their garden crops, would take the simple and most inexpensive measures to keep them away by companion planting of carrots, cilantro and other herbs not tolerated by the sphinx moths. Therefore, the moths are forced to oviposit elsewhere-perhaps on some nearby horsenettle, black nightshade or whatever suits them. There should be no need to ever have to kill Manduca hornworms!

    Bookmark   July 6, 2005 at 7:26PM
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Machinehead_Z6(TN US)

What's all this concern over "tomato worms"? (Hornworms I assume). If you see a hornworm, just get him by his little horn, apply a steady force, and pull him off. They don't resist much when you've got'm by the horn.

    Bookmark   July 14, 2005 at 5:11PM
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Machinehead, as you can tell by this thread, about half of us are not concerned in the least. I've seen my share of defoliation, but that's all. No plants are ever killed. I just remove affected stems, helping the plant to produce more banches/suckers. A few of us here actually like the big bugs and welcome them as part of our natural world. I don't pick up any sphinx larva by the horn unless it's a very young one or a hatchling! If you don't want them on your garden crops, just relocate them to any nearby black nightshade or horsenettle and they will eat those to a nub.

    Bookmark   July 14, 2005 at 5:37PM
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Hey all you tomato lovers, I am having a problem with tomato hornworms also. I do not find them attractive, and I believe that they are evil. My tomato garden is their feeding ground and I pluck them out usually twice a day to keep up with their destructive nature. I have decided to quit suckering my plants, because the worms now do it for me. My wife and I usually pick about two dozen out a day. There is another animal that loves these worms as much as Mr. Tomato_Worm59, and that is the lowly opossum. My wife is licensed by the DNR to help raise orphaned wild life. WE have been feeding the tomato horn worms to the orphaned possums, and they gobble them up like a starving sailor. We just want to know when will it end? Don't these critters ever get enough to eat? We are catching four inch worms now ,how big do they get? Please respond Mr. Tomato_worm59.
Thanks alot, Paul.

    Bookmark   July 14, 2005 at 11:01PM
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OMG, Paul, 4"! That's just about the limit. I am also [formerly] licensed for wildlife rehab and specialized in birds. I love working with animals. Please don't feed out any more hornworms, but send them to me! I am really needing some for captive-rearing. I have 2 big patches of plants totalling 230, but not a single cat to be found! You can e-mail me, and I'll tell you how to send them. I'm happy to get some! I'll even tell you how to divert the moths and collect their ova [eggs] to keep them off your plants.
It's funny how sphinx populations can vary so much from region to region. No local gardeners around here have even had the big cats. I have a huge patch and nothing--then someone like you with maybe a dozen or so plants--gets overrun with them! I have a waiting list of science teachers begging for the sphinx cats, too!

    Bookmark   July 15, 2005 at 10:48PM
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Cecropia.... you say "my friend gave me a couple idolomantis diabolica this summer to keep me occupied". Do you know how freaking rare those things are? I finally managed to find a person with them and its costing me $75 for just one ooth. You are very lucky! I hope you plan to breed them.

Anyways, back to the topic. I too try to attract the hornworms, although I have never succeded.

But im curious, why do you all think they are "disgusting" and "evil", and why are you scared of them? What do you think it is going to do? Jump off the plant and eat you? Tough chance..lol.

Andrew (mantidsunlimited@gmail.com)

    Bookmark   July 19, 2005 at 3:18PM
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Considering what hornworms eat and what we the human race eats and destroys I guess that would make "US" the most evil thing on this earth.
Any body want to see some pictures of Cambodia or Rwanda for proof, I think not.
I will let them have all of the volunteer maters to eat on next year in a cage so the critters wont get them and they will have a nice place to pupate.
Lord knows the volunteers that I have tried arenÂt fit for any thing else.


    Bookmark   July 19, 2005 at 4:57PM
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Andrew, it doesn't even make sense to call any hornworm disgusting, gross or even evil. They are very pretty and many species of them [although they will never be found in a mater patch] are strikingly beautiful! However, many sphingid larvae do just look very similar. There are at least 200 species [all non pests] which very closely resemble our tobacco worm.

The prettiest cats of all time belong to Saturniidae. That's also where the world's most spectacular moths come from. Unfortunately, all sat moths are really useful for, is just living ornaments and of course, making more of their kind. Saturniid moths don't feed and are therefore, useless as pollinators. The sphingids may not be utterly colorful as a whole, but I love any harmless pollinator of my night-blooming plants! Even the Carolina sphinx [tobacco worm] is a very useful moth!

    Bookmark   July 19, 2005 at 6:31PM
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