Can Chickens Eat Hornworms? Read This Before Feeding!

Do you have some backyard chickens and are looking to add some nutritious worms to their diet? Are you wondering whether chickens can eat hornworms? Find out all about how to feed hornworms to your chickens in this blog.


If you happen to have a chicken farm, you would know that these birds love to peck on the ground. Pecking is how chickens pick worms and other foods from the ground.

Chickens love all kinds of creepy crawlies as part of their diet, and worms are one of their favorites. But what about hornworms? Can chickens eat these large worms that are common feeders found in most pet stores? We look for the answer to this in the blog below.


Can Chickens Eat Hornworms


Are Hornworms Safe for Chickens To Eat?

Hornworms are safe for chickens to eat. In fact, many people feel that the best solution to removing an infestation of this green caterpillar is to simply pick them off the leaves and feed them to chickens! However, this is not always a good idea.

Hornworms that feed on tomato plants can ingest and keep toxins in them, which can be dangerous for your chickens in large quantities.

Hence, always buy hornworms from reputed pet stores and make sure you don’t pick them from the wild, even though these garden pests may be abundantly available in your garden.

In small quantities, hornworms are quite nutritious for chickens. But hornworms cannot be the primary feeder for chickens because it does not contain all the nutrients that a chicken needs.

Are Hornworms Nutritious For Them?

Hornworms are nutritious for chickens. They are low on fat, high on protein, and have a high amount of calcium and phosphorus. Moreover, they are an excellent source of water. Here is a breakup of the nutritional content of hornworms:

Nutrient Percentage
Protein 9%
Fat 3%
Moisture 85%
Calcium 464 mg/kg by weight
Phosphorus 1394 mg/kg by weight

Hornworms Provide Hydration

As you can see in the table above, hornworms are 85% water. This makes them a perfect source of moisture in most pets’ diets, be it geckos, lizards, or hens. These worms keep your chickens hydrated.

You can feed hornworms to chickens in the summer months when chickens can lose water due to excess heat. Adding these worms to their diet will keep them cooler, more active, and in better shape.


Can Chickens Eat Hornworms


Strong Bones

A kilo of hornworms contains about 464mg of calcium, one of the highest ratios in similar feeder worms. Calcium is very important for the birds’ bone health. Calcium keeps chickens’ beaks and nails healthy.

Calcium is also very important for laying chickens. The outer shell of a chicken’s egg is essentially calcium carbonate. Vets recommend adding calcium supplements to the diet of laying hens, but hornworms can do that job naturally.

How To Feed Hornworms to Chicken?

Here are a few things to keep in mind if you want to feed hornworms to your chickens

Purchase container-bred worms

Feeding worms brought from a reliable breeder or from a reputable online brand is safe. These breeders raise hornworms using other materials apart from tomato or tobacco leaves, so they don’t have any toxins in them.

Mix them in the meal instead of separately

Add the worms as a part of a meal of other insects, worms, and chicken feed. This makes it easier to feed them. However, don’t add too many hornworms because chickens will start to ignore the other items in their feed.

How Many Hornworms To Feed?

Feeding your chickens too many hornworms is not a good idea. These worms are fairly large in size, and the chickens might develop digestive issues if they eat too many.

The ideal count is for each chicken to have 1 or 2 worms with their meal. The worms can also be used as an occasional snack.


Can Chickens Eat Hornworms? Read This Before Feeding!


Can Baby Chickens Eat Them?

Yes, it is totally safe for baby chicks to eat both tomato hornworms and tobacco hornworms. The worms are high in calcium, protein, and water content, so they are nutritious for chicks as well.

Baby chickens cannot peck at worms, so you can mash the worms along with other food items and feed them directly to the chicks. Make sure that you are feeding hornworms at the larval stage, because fully grown hornworms will be too big for them.

Other Worms That Chickens Can Eat

Chickens are omnivores, so they are capable of eating different kinds of worms. Some of the common worms you can include in your chickens’ diet are:

  • Earthworms
  • Hornworms
  • Mealworms
  • Silkworms

Here are two other types of worms that can be healthy for your chickens.


Mealworms have a high protein content which makes them appropriate for younger chickens and hens that are going to lay eggs. Be it alive or frozen; chickens will happily peck away at the worms.


Silkworms can be an excellent addition to the chicken’s diet, as they are one of the healthiest worms for birds.

They have calcium, protein, vitamins, and iron, along with vitamins B1, B2, and B3. Moreover, these worms are soft and easy to digest.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can ducks and chickens eat hornworms?

Yes, both ducks and chickens can eat hornworms. Both of these birds can benefit from some form of worms in their meals as they are a source of protein, calcium, and moisture.

Remember to always feed the birds with hornworms purchased from the market, not wild ones plucked from plants.

Are hornworms poisonous to birds?

Hornworms found in the wild might have fed on tomato leaves or leaves of plants from the nightshade family and picked up toxins from them, which can be poisonous for birds. However, they would have to eat a lot of these worms to be affected by the toxins.

How do you get rid of hornworms naturally?

Bacillus Thuringiensis (BT) is one of the most efficient insecticides for removing hornworms from the leaves of plants.

You can purchase this bacteria from your nearby pet store or supermarket. You need to spray it on the leaves infested with hornworms. The spray is quick acting and will kill them almost immediately.

Another good way to do this is to drown them in soapy water. You can also consider introducing beneficial insects like ladybugs and lacewings to remove them.

What can I do with extra hornworms?

If you have extra hornworms, you can keep them as pets since they are low-maintenance and let the hummingbird moths hatch. You can then let the adult moths breed the next batch of hornworms and sell them as pet feeders.


Can Chickens Eat Hornworms? Read This Before Feeding!


Final Words

Chicken enjoy the nutrients from hornworms, and it is a great addition to their meals. However, make sure you always buy your hornworms from reputable sellers and never feed them hornworms caught in the wild. Thank you for reading! 



Reader Emails

Over the years, our readers have sent us several emails on this topic. Please go through them below.

Letter 1 – Two Beautiful Caterpillars from Panama: Hornworm and Silkworm


Beautiful Saturniid Caterpillar

Saturniid Caterpillar, possibly in genus Automeris
Saturniid Caterpillar, possibly in genus Automeris

Subject: Not sure about this little friends
Location: Panama, Chiriqui province
November 3, 2014 7:48 am
Here in Panamá is common the encounters with worms if you live near forest zones. Here two species that I want to know more about. I think the fist one can be a hawkmoth caterpillar and the second one maybe a silkmoth caterpillar. Thanks in advance, bugman.
Signature: KLS

Possibly Automeris species
Possibly Automeris species

Dear KLS,
We agree with your identifications, but alas, we haven’t the time right now to investigate further.  Your images and the caterpillars are both wonderful.  We believe the Silkmoth Caterpillar may be in the genus
Automeris, or a closely related genus. Perhaps one of our readers can investigate this further.  We will also try to contact Bill Oehlke to see if he has any ideas.

Hornworm:  Manduca pellenia

Nice pictures of amazing animals!
The Saturnid caterpillar is probably of an Automeris species indeed.
The Sphingid caterpillar is most likely a Manduca pellenia.
Nice wishes from Berlin,

Thanks Bostjan,
We will search for some appropriate links.

Ed. Note November 4, 2014:  Identification submissions to What’s That Bug? can include three attachments and very few folks actually attach all three.  In instances where three images are submitted, we generally only post two.  We are retroactively amending this posting to contain the third image as all three are so beautiful.

Letter 2 – Unidentified Black Hornworm and Hummingbird Clearwing Moth


black caterpillar with a red horn
We saw this caterpillar along side the road in British Columbia. I went through most of the sites that you’ve linked to on your page, but I think this guy’s out of range for those sites.
Any ideas?
Lea Ann
p.s., I also included a pretty clear picture of what I think is a Common Clear-Wing Moth… (Taken in Mayo, Yukon)

Hi Lea Ann,
WE have been trying unsuccessfully to properly identify your unknown black sphinx caterpillar with the red horn. We will continue to try. Your Hummingbird Clearwing Moth is a welcome addition to our site as well.

Letter 3 – Unidentified Black Hornworm (Bedstraw Hawk Moth) and Hummingbird Clearwing Moth


black caterpillar with a red horn
We saw this caterpillar along side the road in British Columbia. I went through most of the sites that you’ve linked to on your page, but I think this guy’s out of range for those sites.
Any ideas?
Lea Ann
p.s., I also included a pretty clear picture of what I think is a Common Clear-Wing Moth… (Taken in Mayo, Yukon)

Hi Lea Ann,
WE have been trying unsuccessfully to properly identify your unknown black sphinx caterpillar with the red horn. We will continue to try. Your Hummingbird Clearwing Moth is a welcome addition to our site as well.

(01/01/2005) Ed. Note: We have just identified the black sphinx caterpillar thanks to this site run by Bill Oehlke. It is Hyles gallii, the Bedstraw Hawk Moth or Gallium Sphinx (wingspan approx. 75 mm). Hyles gallii ranges coast to coast in Canada and southward along the Rocky Mountains into Mexico. It is also widely distributed throughout Europe and Asia.

Letter 4 – Pre-Pupal Great Ash Sphinx Hornworm


Subject:  Giant Sphinx Pupa
Geographic location of the bug:  Bernardo Heights Country Club, Rancho Bernardo, CA
Date: 08/26/2018
Time: 01:20 AM EDT
Your letter to the bugman:  I spotted this caterpillar at our golf course this afternoon, Sunday, August 26, 2018.  I think it is a Giant Sphinx pupa.  Is this correct?
How you want your letter signed:  CADSAN

Pre-Pupal Great Ash Sphinx

This is a Caterpillar, not a Pupa, but based on the orange color, in our opinion it is a pre-pupal Caterpillar, and though it is not a Giant Sphinx, it is in the Sphinx Moth family Sphingidae.  The blue caudal horn is unusual, and we believe we have correctly identified it as a pre-pupal Great Ash Sphinx Caterpillar,
Sphinx chersis, thanks to this BugGuide image.  According to BugGuide:  “Larva – greenish or pinkish with seven long diagonal lines sometimes edged with pink. Spiracles elongate, black ringed with white. Horn blue or pink. ”  According to Sphingidae of the Americas:  “Larval hosts are ash, lilac, privet, cherry, and quaking aspen.”

Thank you for you prompt reply.  I had never seen one of those before.  Had a tough time trying to find a picture of him on the internet. He was crawling across a fairway, so I put him in what I am hoping is a safe area so he can  hopefully become a moth someday.  Your website is great!
Appreciate all the info.
Carolyn Dullea

Letter 5 – Hermit Sphinx Hornworm


Subject: What is it ?
Location: Ashford ct
September 17, 2016 7:29 am
Hello. I found this cool guy crawling along the road. He looks almost scaley. I’d love to know what it is. Thank you
Signature: Nicole Whitney

Ello Sphinx Hornworm
Hermit Sphinx Hornworm

Dear Nicole,
We believe this is the Hornworm of an Ello Sphinx,
Erinnyis ello, but according to Sphingidae of the Americas, it is only listed as a stray in Connecticut, meaning adult moths sometimes are found.  If there are caterpillars, it is naturalized.  According to Sphingidae of the Americas:  “Larvae can be quite varied.”  There is an image on BugGuide of a similarly colored Ello Sphinx Hornworm.  The Ello Sphinx Hornworm is described on BugGuide as being:  “Horn reduced to a low point, arising from an elevated angular hump.  In the last instar, the horn is reduced to a nub.  Eyespot over the third thoracic segment is hidden in the resting caterpillar.  Ornately banded thoracic and prolegs.  Length to 7cm.”  We will check with Bill Oehlke if he agrees with our identification.

Bill Oehlke Provides Correction:  Hermit Sphinx
Lintneria eremitus.
I wish permission to post

Ed. Note:  See Sphingidae of the Americas for information on the Hermit Sphinx.

Letter 6 – Rustic Sphinx Hornworm


huge caterpillar
Location:  Palm Beach County, FL
September 4, 2010 1:23 pm
I was picking basil this morning and almost picked this guy – to my immense surprise! He’s soft and squishy, didn’t move the entire time I was out there, and BIG. Can you tell me what species it is?
Thanks in advance!
Signature:  basil lady

Rustic Sphinx Hornworm

Dear Basil Lady,
This is the caterpillar of a Sphinx Moth in the family Sphingidae, known as a Hornworm.  It looks to us like a Rustic Sphinx,
Manduca rustica, and Bill Oehlke’s excellent website has photos of the caterpillar as well as the other stages of metamorphosis.  The features that lead us to believe your caterpillar is a Rustic Sphinx are the “numerous white nodules on top of the thorax (visible in your closeup photo) and seven pairs of oblique, blue-gray stripes along the side of the body. The horn is white at the base and blue-gray at the tip.”  There is an extensive list of plants that the caterpillar is known to feed upon, and basil is not among them, so we are copying Bill Oehlke on this reply to get a confirmation and also in the event he may want to add basil as a food plant to his list.

Rustic Sphinx Caterpillar

Bill Oehlke Responds
Thanks for referrals. Here is confirmation notice of Manduca rustica from Palm Beach County, Florida.
Daniel Marlos, from What`s that bug`,  sent me your email in  reference to a Manduca rustica larva you encountered feeding on basil.
I confirm that it is Manduca rustica, and I would like permission to add your images to my Sphingidae data base, credited to you.
My Palm Beach County thumbnail checklist is at
Can you send, as jpg attachments to this email address, larger images than the ones displayed on What`s that bug
Basil represents a new host plant for this species, but it is not surprising to me because it seems to eat just about everything in sight.
I am wondering though it it just switched over to basil recently and was previously eating something else. Can you find basil plants nearby with many leaves missing and numerous caterpillar droppings (poop) on the ground below the basil plants.
Also if I am to credit the photo properly, I would need your full name, or just initials if you would prefer.
Bill Oehlke

Thank you for the really fast reply!
If you want any additional images of the caterpillar, please let me know. If you use any of the images, you can credit little c photography instead of “Basil Lady.”

7 thoughts on “Can Chickens Eat Hornworms? Read This Before Feeding!”

  1. No problem. These pictures was taken yesterday. Today I found another species, smallest but with more spikes. I think it is a Automeris too.
    I’ll keep investigating.
    Thank you for answer. Keep it up! Sorry for my grammar and misspellings!

  2. Nice pictures of amazing animals!
    The Saturnid caterpillar is probably of an Automeris species indeed.
    The Sphingid caterpillar is most likely a Manduca pellenia.
    Nice wishes from Berlin,

  3. Hello! We live in S.C. and have a large vitex tree in our front yard. We’ve spotted 3 large green caterpillars/larvae with green spiny horns on the vitex tree in the past 3 weeks (never more than 1 at a time). We now have one in a well ventilated terrarium so we can watch it’s life cycle and learn more about it. It just turned brownish red today. We’ve been changing the leaves out and cleaning the feces out daily. Any ideas on what it might be? Thanks!


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