Hornworm: All You Need To Know

This article will be your one-stop guide for everything that you need to know about the notorious pests called hornworms that grow up into beautiful sphinx moths.

Hornworms can sound intimidating, but they’re quite fascinating!

Also known as tomato or tobacco hornworms (depending on which crop they prefer), these harmless insects have a curved “horn” at their rear end.

Despite what most people think, they are not caterpillars of butterflies – they are, in fact, moth caterpillars.

They’re usually found in gardens where their size makes them easy to spot.

In this article, I will explore all you need to know about hornworms, including their appearance, habitat, behavior, life cycle, and predators.

Unknown Hornworm

What Are Hornworms?

Hornworms are some of the most interesting and visually arresting garden creatures around.

The larvae of hawk moths, these green-bodied invertebrates sport a ‘horn’ on their posterior end.

Their diet consists mainly of plants, so their presence in the garden is unwelcome to many gardeners.

They feed on tobacco and tomato patches and can destroy an entire crop in no time.

Although harmless to humans and pets, hornworms multiply very fast if left unchecked.

If you see an excessive number of these worms in your garden, it may be time to take steps to reduce their population.

I will discuss what you can do about it in later sections.

How Big Do Hornworms Get?

Hornworms get quite big! Most commonly, they reach lengths of around 2-3 inches, although some can even get up to 5 inches in length.

They are among the largest caterpillars in the world.

When the adults come out after the pupation stage, they can also be quite big. Their wingspan is typically anywhere between two to eight inches.

Add to that the long proboscis that they use to suck nectar from flowers, make them appear quite large.

They are, in fact, so big that some people mistake them for actual hummingbirds, which is where their name comes from.

Hornworm caterpillars are easily identifiable by their unique “horn” at the end of their abdomens and their bright green color.

They feed on plants like tomatoes, eggplants, and potatoes. This is why gardeners will often find them among their vegetables when picking.

Hornworm: Theretra alecto or not???

Hornworms Types

Several types of hornworms can be found around the world.

But the two most commonly seen varieties are the Tobacco-Hornworm and the Tomato-Hornworm.

There is not much difference between them, however, except for the fact that they prefer different crops to attack.

The Tobacco Hornworm has seven pairs of diagonal white markings running across its green body, while its relative, the Tomato-Hornworm, is recognizable by its deep maroon stripes.

Both feed voraciously on the respective foliage.

What Do Hornworms Turn Into?

Hornworms are the caterpillar form of a large family of moths commonly known as the hawk or sphinx moth.

Once they are fully grown, hornworms transform into these impressive-looking moths with vibrant colors, large wings, and long tails.

Firstly, they change from an active eating stage to a dormant pupa.

They build their cocoon and metamorphose into the adult stage.

In this cocoon, most hornworms stay in the pupal stage for 2-4 weeks before emerging as fully grown moths ready to fly off and start another generation.

What Does A Hornworm Eat?

Hornworms are incredibly voracious eaters and have a preference for tomato leaves, pepper, and eggplant plants.

They also munch away at the flowers and stems if given a chance.

While hornworms can feed on other types of foliage, they are especially partial to tomatoes.

It’s common for gardeners to find these creatures happily chowing down on their prized fruit in the summertime.

Luckily, there are a variety of easy-to-apply pesticides that can help protect your garden from hornworm damage without posing a risk to humans.

Hornworm: probably Manduca florestan

Where Do Hornworms Live?

Hornworms, also known as tobacco or tomato hornworms, can usually be spotted living in regions that have warm summers and mild winters.

They live on the leaves of garden plants such as tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, and potatoes.

They can occasionally be found on other weeds and shrubs too.

During winter months, they form pupae which remain dormant until warm weather returns when they emerge as fully grown moths with bright yellow stripes on their wings.

Life Cycle of A Hornworm

The life cycle of a hornworm begins when the female moths lay eggs on host plant leaves.

These include the tomato or tobacco plant that will become fodder for the worms.

In a few days, larvae hatch from the eggs and begin to feed on the leaves.

Over time, the larvae keep eating and growing until they assume the large green worm form that you might have seen in your garden.

They molt several times until they reach maturity, at which point they bury themselves in the soil to pupate.

In about two weeks, they turn into adults.

Adult moths have long, curved abdomens and brown coloring. Many species also bear white or yellow stripes along their bodies.

Some species have wings that remain close together atop their abdomens, while others have separate wings opening wide to fly away.

A full cycle from egg to adult moth usually takes about 30-35 days before it’s ready for another generation of larvae.

Hornworm: Smerinthus ophthalmica

How Long Do Hornworms Live?

Hornworms can live up to 4 weeks, and their life span may vary depending on the conditions they’re kept in.

They need access to a food source like foliage or fruits to reach their full lifespans.

However, even without adequate nutrition, they can still survive for a while.

At maturity, these insects will pupate and eventually hatch out and become adults when conditions are favorable.

Interestingly enough, though, if the weather isn’t quite warm enough, these hornworms can remain in diapause until temperatures begin to rise again.

Do They Bite?

Hornworms aren’t usually dangerous as they won’t bite humans.

However, if you come in contact with one, you may feel a pinch.

They have mandibles, which are jaws that allow them to chew through leaves and other vegetation they feed on.

However, they’re rather gentle, so even if something brushes up against them, it will result in the faintest of pinches.

That said, it’s probably best to keep an eye out for their presence.

Are They Poisonous/Venomous?

Hornworms, or caterpillars of the hawk moth family, are not poisonous or venomous.

Despite their appearance with a horn-like protrusion at the rear end, they pose no harm to humans.

One should exercise caution while handling them, though, as they may try to bite if threatened.

The bites are actually nothing but nibbles, so its not likely to cause any damage.

Feeding on foliage in gardens, these large caterpillars are voracious eaters and can defoliate plants rapidly if left unchecked.

Hornworm

What Are Hornworms Attracted To?

Hornworms are surprisingly attractive to a range of different things.

They tend to be attracted to the color yellow.

This is why yellow sticky traps and lures are often used effectively to help contain them in gardens.

They also respond positively to bright lights, like those found in fluorescent lamps.

They are also attracted to certain smells, such as ammonia or soap scents mixed with certain plant oils.

How To Breed Hornworms

Breeding hornworms as bait for your pet lizards or arachnids or else raising them as pet hawk moths is not very difficult!

First off, you’ll need two adult moths of either sex.

You’ll also need food for the worms to eat, such as overripe fruits or vegetables, which should be changed every few days.

Next, set up an environment with a substrate like soil or vermiculite and some sort of shelter that will absorb moisture.

Once you have your environment in place, provide places for the moth to mate on (think sticks or branches).

Then add the food for the caterpillars to munch on.

When larvae hatch from hornworm eggs laid by the adults, provide them with more food until they reach full size and form chrysalises.

In due time, adult moths will emerge from pupae, and then the cycle starts all over again.

Hornworms As Pet Food: Who Eats Hornworms?

Hornworms are an immensely popular pet food choice for owners of lizards, frogs, birds, and other small reptiles.

Generally found in warm climates like the southern United States and parts of Central America, these plump creatures pack a ton of protein into their small bodies.

For pet owners, hornworms are a great way to provide your pet with an easy-to-digest meal.

Hornworm: Smerinthus ophthalmica

Can Leopard Geckos Eat Hornworms?

Leopard geckos are some of the most popular pets, and they make excellent additions to any household.

They thrive on a diet of live insects, such as crickets, waxworms, and even hornworms.

Feeding them hornworms is generally safe and can provide some variety for your pet reptile.

Hornworms are chock full of nutrients like protein and calcium, which can help leopard geckos grow strong and healthy.

They should never be overfed, though – a single medium-sized hornworm per day is plenty for an adult leopard gecko.

If you’d like to offer these worms to your pet, ensure to purchase only fresh, organic ones from a reliable source.

Can Bearded Dragons Eat Hornworms?

Bearded dragons can safely eat hornworms in moderation as a supplement to their regular diet of greens and insects.

Hornworms are high in protein and calcium (good for healthy bones and muscle growth), low in fat, and rich in nutrients like vitamin A that promote good eyesight.

That said, they should be introduced into an adult dragon’s diet only as occasional treats.

Since they have a slightly higher phosphorus content which may cause a mineral imbalance over time if fed too often.

Hornworms usually come from breeders who feed them artificial diets. Owners should ensure the ones they get for their pets are organically raised to prevent nutrient deficiencies.

Can Chickens Eat Hornworms?

Yes, chickens can eat hornworms! Hornworms are a surprisingly nutritious snack for your chickens.

They provide a good source of essential proteins, vitamins, and minerals, as well as omega-3 fatty acids and some healthy fat sources.

Hornworms have a mild taste, so they’re relatively easy to feed to chickens.

They also contain high amounts of calcium and other trace minerals, which can be beneficial for egg production in poultry.

Hornworms are live larvae that are typically sold frozen in pre-packaged portions. You’ll want to thaw them before feeding to ensure safe digestion.

To keep things interesting for your chickens, you can vary the type of insects they receive.

Can Bearded Dragons Eat Hornworms

Can Chameleons Eat Hornworms?

Chameleons can indeed eat hornworms, as they make for a great snack that is packed with

like calcium and protein.

The crunchy exoskeleton provides efficient exercise for the chameleon’s jaws while still being relatively easy to consume.

It is important to always double-check the supply of live hornworms you purchase to ensure their diet has been properly supplemented with vitamins.

Inadequate nutrition can lead to digestive issues in your chameleon. Although live hornworms can be more expensive than other feeders, investing in them will likely be worth it.

Can Tarantulas Eat Hornworms?

Yes, tarantulas can eat hornworms! They are an excellent source of high protein nutrition for your spider.

Hornworms are the larvae of Sphinx moths and can be found in most garden centers or online.

When purchasing these worms, look for ones that are plump and round with no discoloration.

They’re easy to feed to your tarantula as well.

Simply drop them into their enclosure, and watch as your pet wraps up the wriggly snack either immediately or over the next few hours.

Can Pacman Frogs Eat Hornworms?

Pacman frogs can benefit from including hornworms in their diet.

Hornworms are high in protein and low in fat, making them a good choice for these active amphibians.

Not only do they provide an excellent source of nutrition, but they also help the frogs maintain their energy levels through movement and active digestion.

They can also act as a natural defense against parasites due to their spines covering the body, discouraging potential predators from attacking them.

Please note, when feeding your pet Pacman frog with hornworms is to select ones that have been raised organically.

Many commercially raised hornworms may have been treated with chemicals or antibiotics, which could be hazardous for your pal to consume.

Can Pacman Frogs Eat Hornworms

Can Sugar Gliders Eat Hornworms?

Sugar gliders are omnivorous and can eat a wide variety of different foods, including hornworms.

Hornworms are a type of caterpillar that is both high in calcium and protein, making them an ideal snack for sugar gliders.

A sugar glider should be given small amounts of hornworms as part of their diet, but larger quantities may lead to digestive problems.

Since they are natural prey to birds, they should always be purchased from an approved source.

As with any animal, it’s important to consult your vet before introducing new elements into their diet.

Can Hedgehogs Eat Hornworms?

Hedgehogs love hornworms! They make an ideal on-the-go snack for your pet since they are high in protein and calcium.

They are also very easy to catch, as the bright green color makes them stand out in foliage.

Additionally, some species of hornworms can curl into a ball when threatened.

Hedgehogs have the perfect weapon – their quills – to tackle this curling prey.

However, it is important to only feed your hedgehog wild-caught varieties as store-bought ones may contain toxins due to pesticides or hormones.

If you’re concerned about what else they can eat, crickets and mealworms also provide a nutritious diet that your pet will enjoy.

Can Turtles Eat Hornworms?

Turtles sure enjoy hornworms. They make an excellent and nutritious treat that is easy to find and store.

These larvae are rich in calcium, providing turtles with a great source of minerals without the need for supplementation.

While some people may worry about them choking on the hard exoskeletons, their mouths are designed to devour them easily.

Hornworms also offer more variety than most insects, as they come in a range of sizes and colors.

It provides much-needed stimulation to turtles whose diet can become monotonous quickly.

Turtle owners must take care not to overfeed these critters, though, as they can cause digestive distress if overindulged.

Can Axolotls Eat Hornworms

Can Axolotls Eat Hornworms?

Axolotls can eat hornworms as a great supplement to their diet.

Hornworms are soft-bodied larvae of moths and provide essential nutrients such as calcium, protein, and carotenoids.

Feeding hornworms are a great way to vary up your axolotl’s diet.

To prepare hornworms for your axolotls, drop them into boiling water for around five seconds to kill them. They can then be fed either live or frozen.

Ensure whatever you feed your axolotl is small enough for them to swallow it properly. About two-thirds of its head size is best.

You should also introduce any new food items slowly over time. Start with just one or two worms before offering more if they’ve handled those well.

How To Get Rid of Hornworms?

Hornworms are one of the most common pests that attack vegetable gardens.

To get rid of hornworms, you’ll want to start by inspecting your plants for any hornworm scarring or damage.

If there’s evidence of just a few of them present, you can pick them off by hand and dispose of them in a sealed bag far away from your garden.

You can also apply a block of insecticidal soap or neem oil to your plants.

This can help keep the pests away while not harming beneficial insects like bees.

For heavier infestations, it’s best to try using a BT (Bacillus thuringiensis), a biological pesticide product that works well with most pests, including hornworms.

It quickly kills off large groups of larvae without impacting other helpful creatures, such as ladybugs.

Lastly, ensure to practice good garden hygiene and clean up any debris that might be encouraging the hornworms to come back.

Hornworm of a Convolvulus Hawkmoth

Interesting Facts About Hornworms

Hornworms, or tobacco hornworms, are fascinating creatures. They get their name from the white “horn” protruding from the end of their tail.

While they may look intimidating, hornworms are surprisingly docile and make great pets for children to observe.

Here are eight interesting facts about tobacco hornworms:

  1. Despite being called “hornworms,” they don’t really have a horn – it is just a soft protrusion meant to scare off predators.
  2. Speaking about predators, these worms emit a strong scent that helps ward off would-be attackers.
  3. Hornworms frequently shed their skin as they molt.
  4. Green and black splotches along their body help camouflage them in nature
  5. Hornworm larvae feed on plants such as tomatoes, peppers, and potatoes
  6. After reaching maturity, adult moths emerge out of a brown chrysalis shell
  7. Adult moths sport bright yellow stripes and wings lined with black dots;
  8. Moth adults consume nectar from flowers and other plants at night.

Frequently Asked Questions

Do hornworms turn into butterflies?

No, hornworms do not turn into butterflies. Hornworms are the caterpillar of the moth family Sphingidae.
They go through a process of metamorphosis before becoming moths.
After the caterpillar goes through its final molt, it enters the pupal stage, which is a chrysalis or cocoon, depending on the species.
Once fully formed, the adult emerges from the cocoon as a hawkmoth or sphinx moth. Therefore, hornworms will never turn into butterflies.

What are black tomato hornworms?

Black tomato hornworms are nothing but a final stage of tomato hornworms that are very near pupation.
As the caterpillar keeps feeding and growing, it starts to turn black or brown before it becomes a pupa.
They grow to be around 3–4 inches long and start out green in color.
An infestation of tomato hornworms can cause extensive damage to tomato crops by feeding on the leaves, stems, and even unripe or ripe fruit.
Their presence can be identified by large amounts of feces near affected tomatoes, which are often riddled with holes from their sharp mandibles.

Can a hornworm hurt you?

No, a hornworm will not hurt you.
Hornworms are larvae of a Sphinx Moth, and they feed on plants, so they may nibble on your vegetables or flowers in the garden if they come across them.
They can be a nuisance since they can cause damage to crops, but their “horns” are too weak to break through human skin and cause harm.
Neither do they have teeth or any sort of biting force to cause any damage, nor are they poisonous or venomous to us.

What is a hornworm good for?

Hornworms can be great pets for folks that enjoy studying insect behavior.
They are relatively easy to care for and have few special requirements, making them suitable pets for those just starting out in the field of exotic insects.
With their voracious appetites, hornworms are also excellent food sources for a variety of reptiles, amphibians, and arachnids.
In addition, many people use hornworms as bait for fishing because of their size and toughness.
Lastly, due to their ability to convert plant material into fat reserves quickly, they can make great feeders for poultry, pigs, and other livestock as well.

Can you eat hornworms?

No, it won’t be the best idea to eat hornworms.
They are the larvae of moths, and their diet consists mainly of vegetation such as leaves, stems, roots, and some fruits.
They may not be poisonous to us, but the diet they take may contain pesticides and other chemicals that can cause illness in humans.
Many people keep the hornworms as pets for educational and research purposes. They are also great for pet food.
However, even when feeding to pets, make sure not to use hornworms picked from fields because of the same reason.

Why are hornworms toxic?

Hornworms are toxic to some predators, because they feed on poisonous plants, such as tobacco and tomato plants.
This toxicity is passed through the hornworm’s system and is therefore considered harmful if ingested.
The toxic chemicals in these plants increase their defense mechanism against predators but pose a hazard to pets or anyone else who tries to eat them.
Once ingested, the toxins weaken the nervous system and can even cause death in smaller reptiles and amphibians.

What happens if you touch a hornworm?

Nothing will happen on touching a hornworm. They are neither poisonous nor venomous, nor do they have the ability to bite or sting us.
Their “horns” are soft and not able to pierce human skin.
They don’t have chewing mouthparts or any other way to bite our hands, which can cause any injury.
All in all, hornworms are completely harmless. In fact, you can even pick them off leaves and throw them outside your garden if there is a small infestation on your hands.

Should you remove hornworms?

Hornworms are a natural pest for many plants. However, too many of them can cause serious damage to your garden.
Therefore, it is important to remove them from your garden if their population is growing out of control.
You can manually pick off the caterpillars or use an insecticide to get rid of them.
If you decide to go with a chemical solution, make sure to read and follow the instructions carefully in order to avoid any potential harm to beneficial species living in your garden.

Wrap Up

In conclusion, hornworms are a captivating and unique type of caterpillar.

While they can cause considerable damage to crops, they also aid as an essential food source for many birds and animals.

To control their populations, it is recommended to handpick them off of plants or use organic pesticides.

With the right management practices, it is possible to effectively control the hornworm population and reduce crop damage.

Letter 1 – Robin feeds Caterpillar to Chicks

 

Fat green robin chow
Location:  Westford Massachusetts
October 10, 2010 6:07 pm
Hello Bugman… found you on a Google search for ”green caterpillar”. Great site!
I’m curious about the fat green ’pillar that turned into fast-growing robin feathers in my apple tree this summer. Tobacco worm? Luna moth? or ….??
Thank you!
Suzanne Niles
frognuts.com
Signature:  Suzanne Niles aka Frogshooter

Robin feeds Caterpillar to Chicks

Dear Suzanne,
We can’t really make out what this caterpillar is for certain, but it does not look like a Hornworm or a Saturniid.  Our best guess is some species of Cutworm or other Owlet Caterpillar.  Even though we couldn’t be certain with your identification, we are in awe at this awesome photograph.

Hi Daniel,
Wow… thanks for the quick reply!  … and for the kind words about the photo.  So the delicacy will remain “The Fat Green Thing”.
I staked out this nest right outside my back door, about 10 feet away from the apple tree.  Trimmed a few twigs/leaves to clear a “window”, then sat on a stool with a tripod and my new fast camera set at two shots per second… and waited for feeding time, which was about every 10 minutes.  Guaranteed results!  Worms, bugs, and berries arrived, but this green thing took the beauty prize for meals-on-wings.
Thanks again!  Now I can stop Googling-for-greenies.
Suzanne

Letter 2 – Unknown Caterpillar

 

Subject: Moth ?
Location: On a vanilla plant
August 4, 2015 12:25 pm
Found an interesting looking Catapillar on my patio- my enclosed patio – during recent heavy downpours in Central Florida – Zone 9B
He may have come in accidentally on some other plant I was moving around I am very familiar with butterfly caterpillars and some swings moth caterpillar’s but I can’t put my finger on what this is there are no Morance I touched him he’s very smooth didn’t exhibit any need anything as far as touching him
Signature: From Jenny

P.S.  Not swings Sphinx
And he was very smooth

Probably Hornless Hornworm
Unknown Caterpillar

Dear Jenny,
We believe, but we are not certain, that this is a hornless Hornworm, the caterpillar of a Sphinx Moth in the family Sphingidae.  Are you certain this is a vanilla orchid?  It looks to us like a
Hoya, a plant with milky sap, related to milkweed in the family Apocynaceae.  We tried to identify your caterpillar on the Sphingidae Larvae of Miami-Dade County, Florida site, but with no luck.  It is possible this is a tropical introduction that has not yet been reported in Florida, and it is also possible that this is an unusual color form of a more common species.  Several hornless caterpillars in the genus Erinnyis are listed as feeding on plants from the aforementioned family.  Caterpillars in the genus Eumorpha are also hornless.  We are contacting Bill Oehlke to see if he can provide any information on this critter’s identity. 

Probably Hornless Hornworm
Unknown Caterpillar

Bill Oehlke Responds
I do not recognize it as a Sphingidae species.
I think it belongs to another family

Letter 3 – Hornless Hornworm from Guyana

 

Subject:  Interesteing Caterpillar
Geographic location of the bug:  Coastal Berbice, Guyana, SA
Date: 07/26/2018
Time: 07:08 AM EDT
Your letter to the bugman:  Had this in my house this morning. Think the cat brought it in.  Just wondering what kind it is and what it will turn in to.  Thanks.
How you want your letter signed:  Troy Kozza

Eumorpha labruscae

Dear Troy,
This is the caterpillar of a moth in the family Sphingidae, and most members of the family have caterpillars with a caudal horn, so they are called Hornworms.  Your individual is a member of the genus
Eumorpha, and many caterpillars from that genus lose the horn during the molting process, and they are left with a caudal bump.  We quickly identified your individual as the caterpillar of the Gaudy Sphinx, Eumorpha labruscae, thanks to images posted to Sphingidae of the Americas. When the caterpillar is threatened, it can retract its head, and a marking on the bottom which resembles an eyespot, causes the caterpillar to look like a small snake, which effectively frightens many predators, especially birds.  The adult Gaudy Sphinx is a gorgeous green moth.

Eumorpha labruscae

Letter 4 – Hornless Hornworm from Ecuador

 

Subject:  Spotted caterpillar from Ecuador
Geographic location of the bug:  Jorupe Reserve, near Macará, Loja, Ecuador (near the Peruvian border)
Date: 04/02/2019
Time: 11:47 AM EDT
Your letter to the bugman:  I photographed this caterpillar (2-3 inches long) at the Jorupe Reserve on March 9.  The size and pattern of the eye-spots on the side look similar to those on some Eumorpha caterpillars, but I haven’t found a match to this.
How you want your letter signed:  David

Eumorpha Caterpillar

Dear David,
This is a beautiful Caterpillar, and because of its resemblance to the North American Achemon Sphinx Caterpillar and Pandorus Sphinx Caterpillar, we are quite confident it is also a member of the genus
Eumorpha.  Caterpillars of moths in the family Sphingidae are commonly called Hornworms because most members of the family have caudal horns.  Members of the genus Eumorpha frequently lose their caudal horns during the molting process.  We could not find any matching images on Sphingidae of the Americas, but many species on the site are lacking images of the caterpillars.  We will contact Bill Oehlke to see if he can provide a species identification.  We hope you will allow Bill to post your image to his site if he is able to assist.

Bill Oehlke Responds.
Daniel,
I sent image to Jean Haxaire and he indicates it is Eumorpha triangulum, but the plant it is on in the photo is not its natural host.
Bill
The larvae display several different colour morphs.

Ed. Note:  More information on Eumorpha triangulum can be found on Sphingidae of the Americas.

Excellent information.  Thanks very much.
(I have another one that I’ll send along shortly.)
David

Letter 5 – Hornless Hornworm from Mexico is Typhon Sphinx

 

Subject:  In mexico
Geographic location of the bug:  Mexico by Lake Chapala
Date: 05/13/2019
Time: 09:35 PM EDT
Your letter to the bugman:  My mom found this caterpillar and its MASSIVE. Just trying to see if we could figure out what it is.
How you want your letter signed:  Should we build a caterpillar wall?

Hornless Hornworm is Typhon Sphinx

This is a Hornworm in the family Sphingidae.  Most Hornworms have caudal horns, but some genera and species shed the horn during molting before they reach maximum size.  This Hornworm is in the genus Eumorpha, one genus that characteristically have caterpillars that are hornless Hornworms.  We believe we have correctly identified your Hornworm as the caterpillar of the Typhon Sphinx, Eumorpha typhon, thanks to images posted to Sphingidae of the Americas. where it states:  “larvae feed upon grape species.”  Are there grape vines nearby?  This individual was probably looking for a good place to dig into soft soil to pupate.  According to Butterflies and Moths of North America:  “Caterpillars pupate in shallow underground cells” and “Range: Honduras north through Mexico to southern Arizona.

 

Letter 6 – Hornless Hornworm, but which species???

 

Subject:  unknown “caterpillar”
Geographic location of the bug:  Buda, Tx (between Austin & San Marcos)
Date: 06/06/2019
Time: 06:19 PM EDT
Your letter to the bugman:  It was walking across sidewalk underneath Elm trees.  White stripes were new to me.  Prob going to find its common!
How you want your letter signed:  Mike Cato

Hornless Hornworm: Eumorpha species

Dear Mike,
This is the caterpillar of a moth in the family Sphingidae, and most caterpillars in the family have caudal horns, and they are known as Hornworms.  There are several genera that have most if not all species shedding the horn as the caterpillar grows.  Your hornless Hornworm is in the genus
Eumorpha, but we are not certain of the species.  It might be the Satellite Sphinx, pictured on BugGuide, or it might be the Vine Sphinx, also pictured on BugGuide.  We will attempt to contact Bill Oehlke to get his opinion, and it is possible that frequent contributor to our site, Bostjan Dvorak, will recognize it and provide a comment.

Facebook Posting from James Lee Phillips:  “I’m really sad for the hornless hornworms. They deserve a less existentialist taxonomy.”

Letter 7 – Valley Carpenter Bee and White Lined Sphinx Hornworm

 

Thanks for your article identifying the “fuzzy blonde bees” that have been patrolling our hillside for the last week. I’m so glad my Yahoo search came up with your page. It was very hard to find any info on anything but black carpenter bees, even in our 3 or 4 insect field guides only one mentioned that carpenter bees could be coloured differently.
We have a current troop of about 5 “blonde boys” and as of yet, no sign of their black female counterparts.
I’ve attached a jpg of a larvae we have found here lately. Have never seen it before in 7 years… Now we’ve seen two, both striped with anal horns. One, in the creek, was much darker than this one, but on both the horn and the mouthparts are gold. We have very few domestic plants around our cabin in the National Forest, but tons of nightshade. Could these be hornworms of some type? They are quite lovely to behold, but a very odd find here.
Thanks,
V Novo

Dear V Novo,
The male Valley Carpenter Bees, Xylocopa varipuncta, are much shorter lived than the females. I have been seeing female bees this spring, visiting my Honey Suckle as well as the Wisteria.
Your caterpillar is a White Lined Sphinx or Striped Morning Sphinx, Hyles lineata, a beautiful moth with a three inch wingspan. I have been seeing adult moths on the USC campus, resting in the eaves of the outdoor hallways near the art building. They have an almost infinite list of food plants, but are very fond of fuschia.

Letter 8 – Sphinx Moth Caterpillar from Haiti: probably genus Erinnyis

 

catapillar found in Haiti
February 5, 2010
A friend of mine is working relief in Haiti right now. They came across this little caterpillar when he said all of the locals helping him jumped back after spotting it. He can’t speak the same language to find out why. But he wants to know if this is a harmful caterpillar at all.
Thanks for your time. Ryan Zwicker.
Haiti

Sphinx Caterpillar: Erinnyis species???

Hi Ryan,
If you can submit additional photos from different angles, it may facilitate a more exact identification.  This is most certainly the caterpillar of a Sphinx Moth in the family Sphingidae, and it is perfectly harmless.  Sphinx Moth Caterpillars are frequently called Hornworms because many species have a caudal horn.  We went to Bill Oehlke’s website, where we always go for Sphinx identifications, and we searched the species index for Haiti.  Though we could not find an exact match, the form and markings of this caterpillar most closely approximate species in the genus Erinnyis.  There is much variability in these caterpillars with regards to coloration, and many species have both brown and green forms as well as other variations.  Some possibilities from Bill Oehlke’s website are Erinnyis alope, Erinnyis crameri, and Erinnyis ello.  We will contact Bill Oehlke to see if he can be more conclusive.

Hi Daniel,
I just wanted to say thank you for the response. Seeing how my friend is doing relief work i’m not sure he will be able to provide any more pictures of one. He only had the one i know of. The information you provided was great, my wife and i spent quite a bit of time looking last night trying to figure it out, but we don’t have any knowledge of bugs in any form so we thought we’d ask people who do when we came across your website. Thanks again for the help. If anything else comes of it we’d love to know. If the little guy is harmless, we’re still not sure why the locals jumped back, other then it just being a bug. lol.
Thanks again, We really appreciate it.
Ryan.

Letter 9 – Banded Sphinx Moth Caterpillars

 

Banded Sphinx Moth Caterpillars?

Banded Sphinx Moth Caterpillars

Banded Sphinx Moth Caterpillars?
Location:  Irmo, South Carolina
August 30, 2010 2:08 pm
Dearest Bugman,
Love the website. Just found it the other day. I have been taking lots of pics of dragonflies, but my questions are about some caerpillars I’ve found. The first photo is of two cats on a type of primrose that grows in the water at the edge of the pond. Unfortunately, I hadn’t noticed the cats until after my DH had weed-whacked most of the primroses down, but there are still a few plants left. The second photo is one of the cats after I had brought him inside. I’m keeping it in a plastic bug box for now. I’m feeding it the plants it was on. I thought it would eat more, but there has been frass and the cat has grown and changed color. The second pic shows him now (three days after I found him). Will the indoor temp negatively affect it? It’s about 90 degrees outside and about 70 inside. The last pic is a large (about 3” long) cat that is also feeding on the primroses. I am pretty sure the first pic is a Banded Sphinx moth cat, but not sure about the last one. One of my flowerbeds has petunias and moonflowers and we thought there was a baby hummingbird coming to feed late in the evening, but now we know it was one of the big moths.
Laura

Banded Sphinx Moth Caterpillar

Hi Laura,
All of your caterpillars are Banded Sphinx Moth Caterpillars,
Eumorpha fasciatus.  According to Jim Tuttle on Bill Oehlke’s excellent website:”In my experience the caterpillars of this species are the most variable of all of the sphingids.”  That statement is supported on BugGuide where many color variations of the Banded Sphinx Moth Caterpillars are posted.  The temperature change from 90 to 70 degrees may slow growth a tiny bit, but it will not have a negative effect on the development of your caterpillars.  Banded Sphinx Caterpillars, unlike the caterpillars of most members of the family which are known as Hornworms, does not possess a caudal horn.  Your caterpillars will appreciate some nice soil in which to bury themselves to pupate.

 

Letter 10 – Rustic Sphinx Hornworm

 

rustic sphinx moth question
Location: Galveston County, Texas
November 5, 2010 9:14 am
Found one in our back yard, identified it via your website. We live in a newly-constructed suburban development and there is almost nothing for it to eat here. If we were going to raise it to moth-hood, what should we provide in the way of food?
Signature: steeleam

Rustic Hornworm

Dear steeleam,
Pointy finger is a nice use of scale.  We are of the opinion that if a caterpillar is feeding upon a plant, that plant must be a single diet, a preferred food, an unknown opportunity or a wildlife corridor away from a food source.  Hopefully it is #2 because that allows for a divergent population of Rustic Hornworms that is most likely to survive to adulthood.  Is there some reason you doubt that the plant upon which you discovered this Rustic Sphinx is not an appropriate food?  That would be our first guess, but we cannot determine the plant species, though it looks vaguely like a Fuschia.  You can research preferred food plant on the Sphingidae of the Americas website.  We are beginning to have our dissatisfaction with the common names for the members of the family Sphingidae.  Sphinx and Hornworm should only be used for the caterpillar because of its preferred pose and its anatomical features.  Hawkmoth should be reserved for the nocturnal species and Hummingbird Moth for the diurnal.

thanks for writing me back.  I didn’t explain myself clearly.  I found that caterpillar in one of my potted plants, a lantana.  The plant was almost totally consumed by that point, not much more food left available for the critter.  So I was wondering what else I could feed it.  Because we live in a newly-built neighborhood, not much else has been planted yet here.  It wasn’t as simple as transfering him to another plant, because there are none.
I kept it in a large container and provided fresh lantana leaves for about a day, but it did not eat and appeared to be under stress, alternately going into some kind of rigor mortis and then waking back up again.  So I placed it on the soil below the lantana.  It promptly burrowed into the ground, so perhaps it was time to coccoon.

The behavior you describe is consistent with metamorphosis.  Sphinx Caterpillars do not cocoon.  A cocoon is spun from silk and the Sphinx Caterpillar will simply molt into a bare pupa.

Letter 11 – Hornworm of the Arrow Sphinx

 

Subject: CATERPILLAR
Location: EASTERN CAPE
February 20, 2014 2:17 am
We have had five HUGE caterpillars in our Hibiscus Tree, the largest measuring 12cm and as thick as a man’s thumb. Please identify them for us.
Signature: Desmond

Arrow Sphinx Hornworm
Arrow Sphinx Hornworm

Dear Desmond,
Several years ago we received similar images from South Africa and we were puzzled.  This caterpillar has a caudal horn which would indicate the Sphinx Moth family Sphingidae, but the spines on the body are more consistent with a Giant Silkmoth Caterpillar in the family Saturniidae.  We eventually learned that this is the caterpillar of an Arrow Sphinx
Lophostethus dumolinii.  INaturalist which pictures the adult moth indicates “It is known from most habitats, except desert and high mountains throughout the Ethiopian Region, excluding Madagascar and the Cape in South Africa.”  Your Cape sighting might be evidence of a range expansion, perhaps due to global climate changes.  Hibiscus is also listed as a food plant for the caterpillar.  Additional images of the caterpillar can be found on ISpot.  We are copying Bill Oehlke who assisted in the identification several years ago and we suspect he may request permission to post your photo on his own website.

Letter 12 – Whitelined Sphinxes: Hornworms and Pupae

 

Subject: Moth
Location: North America. Missouri
August 15, 2014 12:58 pm
What type if moth will emerge? How long will it take?
Signature: Thank you Rebecca Byrne

Whitelined Sphinx Caterpillars
Whitelined Sphinx Caterpillars

Hi Rebecca,
If possible, please let us know which plant these Whitelined Sphinx Caterpillars were feeding upon.  This is a highly variable caterpillar, and in addition to green individuals like the ones you submitted, some Whitelined Sphinx Caterpillars are yellow and some Whitelined Sphinx Caterpillars are black.  This is an edible species of caterpillar and it is found in all 48 continental states.  We are curious about the food plant as there is such a large variety of plants that can serve as larval foods.  Whitelined Sphinxes are especially numerous in the American southwest, and some years see tremendous explosions in the population numbers of both the larvae and the adults.  Whitelined Sphinxes are large and very pretty moths that are frequently attracted to lights.  We cropped your second image to show a fresh pupa on the right and a caterpillar nearing the moment of pupation on the left.  We expect metamorphosis will be complete within a month, though at the end of the year in colder climates, the pupa may pass the winter and emerge in the spring.

Whitelined Sphinx Pupa (right) and caterpillar nearing pupation.
Whitelined Sphinx Pupa (right) and caterpillar nearing pupation.

Letter 13 – Waved Sphinx Hornworm

 

Subject: pink & green horned caterpillar
Location: Colorado
July 29, 2015 3:43 pm
Well hes mostly green and pink on top, his face is scary looking haha. He has a spike or horn on his tail side. He dosnt have anything else. No spots or stripes. I wanna take a pic with him on my face but im scared hes poisonous. Please hurry haha and i probably wont check my email if that applys at all.
Signature: idk

Waved Sphinx Hornworm
Waved Sphinx Hornworm

Dear idk,
This is a Hornworm, the caterpillar of a Sphinx Moth in the family Sphingidae, and we believe it is a Waved Sphinx Hornworm,
Ceratomia undulosa, that has turned pink as a sign it is preparing to pupate.  See the image on the Sphingidae of the Americas site, scrolling down.  It is not poisonous, and we eagerly await the image of you posing with this juicy guy.

Letter 14 – Hornworm of a Great Ash Sphinx

 

Subject: What kind of bug is this
Location: Arizona
November 28, 2015 1:12 pm
We found this caterpillar on our porch. We are wondering what kind species it is. Thanks.
Signature: Tavin

Great Ash Sphinx
Great Ash Sphinx

Dear Tavin,
Do you have a nearby ash tree?  This looks like the Hornworm of a Great Ash Sphinx,
Sphinx chersis, and we are basing our ID on the curved blue horn.  You can compare your image to this BugGuide image, though we believe the difference in coloration may be due to the proximity of pupation time for your individual.

Letter 15 – Tetrio Sphinx Hornworm from Trinidad

 

Subject: This bug is in Trinidad
Location: Trinidad
December 31, 2015 1:32 pm
Saw this bug in Trinidad but could not find out about what it was called?
Can you help?
Signature: Barb

Hornworm of a Tetrio Sphinx
Hornworm of a Tetrio Sphinx

Dear Barb,
This Hornworm is the Caterpillar of a Tetrio Sphinx.

Letter 16 – Hornworm of a Greater Ash Sphinx

 

Subject: Is this a Laurel Sphinx?
Location: Ontario, Canada
July 28, 2017 7:02 am
Hi there. Appreciate help in identifying this guy. I live in Ontario Canada, but I rarely see caterpillars like this in size. Is it a caterpillar? Bright colour with what looks like a blue stinger. Wild!!!!!
Signature: Zark

Great Ash Sphinx

Dear Zark,
The blue caudal horn and the other markings have us leaning more towards this being the Hornworm of a Greater Ash Sphinx,
Sphinx chersis, upon comparing your individual to this posting on BugGuide.

Letter 17 – Hornworm of a Waved Sphinx

 

Subject:  Green caterpillar
Geographic location of the bug:  Price, Utah
Date: 09/04/2017
Time: 12:44 PM EDT
My Daughter found this caterpillar in my yard and she wants to know what kind of moth or butterfly it turns into.
How you want your letter signed:  Janice Leavitt

Waved Sphinx Caterpillar

Dear Janice,
Though your camera angle has produced foreshortening of the caudal horn, we are confident we have correctly identified this Hornworm of a Waved Sphinx,
Ceratomia undulosa, because the stripes and their position relative to the circular breathing holes known as spiracles matches images on Sphingidae of the Americas where it states:  “Larvae prefer ash but do well on privet and lilac.”  Do you have a nearby ash tree?  The adult Waved Sphinx is a large brown moth with pretty markings.

I am not sure if my tree is an ash or not but I do have a lot of lilac.

Letter 18 – Giant Sphinx Hornworm Metamorphosis

 

Subject:  Giant Grub
Geographic location of the bug:  Vista, CA
Date: 07/21/2018
Time: 02:50 AM EDT
Your letter to the bugman:  This big guy was spotted this afternoon making its way around and around the inside edge of a #3 pot where a small Cherimoya sapling is growing. I estimate it to be about 4″ long and nearly 3/4″ in diameter.
How you want your letter signed:  John L.

Giant Sphinx Hornworm

Dear John,
We have a general identification for you that we are certain about and a possible species identification that we would love verification on from an expert.  This is definitely a Hornworm, the caterpillar of a Sphinx Moth or Hawkmoth in the family Sphingidae, and because of the texture on the caudal horn that resembles members of the genus
Ceratomia like the Waved Sphinx Hornworm or the Four Horned Sphinx, we suspect it is a member of that genus or a related genus in the subfamily Sphinginae, but alas, we couldn’t match it to a single caterpillar on Sphingidae of the Americas California page.  Knowing a food plant is often very helpful, so we searched Sphingidae and Cherimoya and we found this unidentified individual from Peru in our archives that we now believe might be a Giant Sphinx Moth Caterpillar thanks to images and information on the Cheadle Center for Biodiversity & Ecological Restoration site from the University of California, Santa Barbara in an article entitled Search for the Giant Sphinx Moth that includes this information:  “This meeting’s species of interest was the giant sphinx moth, Cocytius antaeus, which originates from Mexico and has never been recorded in California before its first appearance in Santa Barbara in 2015. Since then, Russell has documented 48 observations, and this number will likely increase as the weather warms and citizens (like you!) keep an eye out and report moth sightings to the Museum. … The giant sphinx moth prefers tropical climes. Prior to its appearance in Santa Barbara, it had only been found regularly in South America, Mexico, Texas and Florida, with a few records in Arizona. C. antaeus is unique in that its long proboscis makes it the only pollinator of the rare ghost orchid (Dendrophylax lindenii) of Florida, Cuba, and the Bahamas. The moth has also been associated with the cherimoya tree (Annona cherimola), which produces fruits also called “custard apples” and is grown throughout Southern California. Where this tree is cultivated, it has to be hand-pollinated to bear fruit. Russell’s hypothesis is that the giant sphinx moth’s appearance in the States is directly linked to the transport and cultivation of cherimoya trees.”  If our identification is correct, the Hornworm you found might have been attempting to feed off the cherimoya in the pot, or perhaps, it was searching for good soft dirt in which to pupate.  Many Sphingidae larvae pupate underground, and many green caterpillars turn pink just prior to pupation.  Do you perhaps work in a nursery or have you recently purchased the cherimoya from a nursery that imports stock from Mexico?  Once we had a tentative ID, we went back to Sphingidae of the Americas and noticed that except for being green, the images of the Giant Sphinx Hornworms look very much like your individual, including the presence of a pink stripe along the dorsal surface.  We are going to try to contact Bill Oehlke to get his opinion on our identification. 

Hi Daniel, thanks for the quick reply. I have several Cherimoya trees, two in the ground, one of which was purchased at a local nursery more than five years ago, the other given to me by a friend about four years ago. The three potted trees I started from seed (variety unknown) three years ago. The tree in the pot where this caterpillar was found is the strongest of the potted trees and became root-stock this year for a couple of grafts from the five-year-old nursery tree, which has never done well and is in failing health, but produced one fruit that was delicious.
It is a mystery to me how this guy got into the pot in the first place. There are only two leaves on this tree that look to have been chewed, on their edges no less, and they are both more than four inches outside the radius of the pot. Furthermore, there is only a California Pepper tree above the pot.
 
Daniel/Bostjan, I will try to watch pupation. Right after I initially posted I mixed up a few cups of my compost and recycling yard compost (50-50), put it in a plastic jar and dropped the caterpillar into the 2-inch deep mix. Within an hour it disappeared under the surface. I spritz with water occasionally to moisten the soil surface. After receiving your message this morning I cleared away enough of the soil mix just to see if the big guy was still alive – yep. I left the soil mix and caterpillar as you can see in the pic (better camera). If you think I should transfer the caterpillar and the soil mix into the Cheimoya pot where I found it, I will do that. Please advise and I will do my best.
As I was about to send this message I went to take a look and since the big guy was moving I shot some video. If you are interested go here: https://drive.google.com/open?id=1MfIU8Lu4t2GS45dQc-BuslsZZK9KIlxG.
Regards,

John

Giant Sphinx Pupating

Hi John,
Thanks for sending your video of a Giant Sphinx pupating.  We have included a still from the video in the posting.  It sounds like you are treating this Sphinx caterpillar appropriately.  We would love images of the pupa and adult if you are able to provide them.

Update:  August 26, 2018
Hi Guys,
Here are links to pics:
Pupa – https://drive.google.com/open?id=1VmfiZ8OfdILBMZ_Q58jIGLGyeEUprQ8R

Adult – https://drive.google.com/open?id=1TortVzZlmgrWmashwSYC7tzV2nUV2sEl

Specimen got away before I could get a good shot of it fully developed.
Regards,
John

Giant Sphinx: Newly formed pupa

Dear John,
Thanks so much for providing images of the metamorphosis of the Giant Sphinx,
Cocytius antaeus.  They are a wonderful addition to the image of the Hornworm you submitted last month.

Giant Sphinx
P.S.
Pupated on 7-26-18 and hatched on 8-17-18 – just in case data was lost when uploaded.
Giant Sphinx

Letter 19 – Sweet Potato Hornworm

 

Caterpillar Southeast Arizona
Location:  Southeast Arizona
September 13, 2010 8:56 pm
I found this beautiful caterpillar, about 3 inches long under my bench pillow this morning (I always check under the pillows!) I’ve searched the web extensively and just can’t find out what it is. My habitat – riparian and mesquite.
Signature:  Heather Borman

Sweet Potato Hornworm

Hi Heather,
Though Bill Oehlke’s very comprehensive Sphingidae of the Americas website does not have a color match to your specimen, we nonetheless suspected that this was the larva of the Pink Spotted Hawkmoth,
Agrius cingulata.  This highly variable caterpillar is commonly called the Sweet Potato Hornworm, and according to Bill, they “ feed on plants in the Convolvulaceae family, especially Ipomoea batatas (sweet potato) and in the Solanaceae family, especially (Datura) (jimsonweed) and related plants in the Americas. ”  We did find a color match on BugGuide.  We suspect when a species has variably colored caterpillars, it helps certain individuals escape detection from predators, an example of evolution in process.  We are copying Bill Oehlke because he may want to ask permission to post your photo on his excellent website as well.

Bill Oehlke confirms ID
Daniel,
I agree that it is Agrius cingulata.
Bill Oehlke

Beautiful bug!!  The Datura have been in bloom the last couple of weeks on the property.  Yes, feel free to use the photo.  A credit would be appreciated.  I live in St. David, AZ, near the San Pedro River.

Letter 20 – Tobacco Hornworm, NOT Sweet Potato Hornworm

 

Subject: It ate my potato vine!
Location: Chandler, AZ
July 27, 2013 8:07 pm
Could you please help me identify this bug. It is as long and fat as my finger and completely devoured my potato vine. I found it in my turtle enclosure in the water dish. I think it was headed for my hibiscus tree. We live in Chandler, AZ and I have never seen anything like this here! I am hoping it did not lay eggs somewhere!
Signature: Erika G.

Probably Pink Spotted Hawkmoth Caterpillar
Tobacco Hornworm

Hi Erika,
This is a Hornworm in the family Sphingidae, and we believe it is the caterpillar of a Pink Spotted Hawkmoth,
Agrias cingulata, also known as the Sweet Potato Hornworm.  According to the Sphingidae of the Americas website:  “Larvae feed on plants in the Convolvulaceae family, especially Ipomoea batatas (sweet potato) and in the Solanaceae family, especially (Datura) (jimsonweed) and related plants in the Americas. The larvae are frequently regarded as pests in the southern states.”  We are guessing Ipomoea batatas (see National Tropical Botanical Garden website) is your potato vine.  Since this is a caterpillar, it most certainly did not lay eggs as the adult Pink Spotted Hawkmoth is the stage that reproduces.

Ed. Note:  September 27, 2016
Thanks to several comments we have received, we have corrected the identification on this posting to be a Tobacco Hornworm.

 

Letter 21 – Parasitized Tobacco Hornworm and Brachonid Wasp: Vintage Photograph

 

Brachonid wasp/Hornworm
Hi Bugman! I’m in the process of digitizing some old slides. This was taken in Aug 1971 near West Point, IN and shows a Brachonid wasp-infected Tobacco hornworm facing his nemesis. Peace,
Dwaine

Hi Dwaine,
What a gorgeous image. It makes us a bit nostalgic for Kodachrome.

Letter 22 – Brachonid Parasitized Tobacco Hornworm

 

what kind of caterpiller is this ???????
i found this catapiller on a bell pepper plant in my yard in jacksonville NC..was wondering what are the white things on it and what type is it and does it turn into a butterfly??
julie – jacksonville nc

Hi Julie,
Your Tobacco Hornworm Caterpillar, Manduca sexta, has been parasitized by a Brachonid Wasp that laid her eggs inside the caterpillar. The larval wasps fed on non-vital tissues and have now formed pupae of the surface of the caterpillar. The pupae will hatch into adult wasps and the caterpillar will die, never maturing into an adult Hawkmoth, the Carolina Sphinx. According to BugGuide: “Larva: large green body; dorsal “horn” (usually curved and orange, pink or red) on terminal abdominal segment; up to seven oblique whitish lateral lines, edged with black on upper borders. The similar Tomato Hornworm, Maduca quinquemaculata, has eight v-shaped stripes and a straight blue-black horn. These caterpillars are often confused and misidentified.” Growing up, we referred to this as a Tomato Hornworm or Tomato Bug. We have received numerous images of Brachonid parasitized caterpillars recently, and are posting your letter and image as an excellent example.

Letter 23 – Parasitized Tobacco Hornworm and Brachonid Wasp: Vintage Photograph

 

Brachonid wasp/Hornworm
Hi Bugman! I’m in the process of digitizing some old slides. This was taken in Aug 1971 near West Point, IN and shows a Brachonid wasp-infected Tobacco hornworm facing his nemesis. Peace,
Dwaine

Hi Dwaine,
What a gorgeous image. It makes us a bit nostalgic for Kodachrome.

Letter 24 – Tobacco Hornworm and update with Brachonid Parasites

 

Tomato Hornworm
Location:  Dayton, OH
August 12, 2010 7:58 pm
My kids found this guy on one of our tomato plants. It ate a huge hole in our biggest tomato. I had to pluck him off and relocate him to a tree at the other side of my yard. Beautiful creature, but I’m sad it ate my biggest tomato!
Jessica

Tobacco Hornworm

Hi Jessica,
This may not matter much to you, but your caterpillar is not a Tomato Hornworm,
Manduca quinquemaculata, but rather the closely related Tobacco Hornworm, Manduca sexta.  The Caterpillars and adult Hawkmoths of both species look very similar and have similar diets, and both caterpillars will feed on the leaves, and occasionally fruit, of tomatoes.  According to BugGuide the Tobacco Hornworm can be identified by its:  “large green body; dorsal ‘horn’ (usually curved and orange, pink or red) on terminal abdominal segment; up to seven oblique whitish lateral lines, edged with black on upper borders. The similar looking Tomato Hornworm, Manduca quinquemaculata, has eight v-shaped stripes and a straight blue-black horn. These caterpillars are often confused and misidentified.”

We have an interesting personal anecdote to relate.  Our publicist has urged Daniel to create a short 2-3 minute video to use a promotional device for his about to be released book, The Curious World of Bugs.  The video would be used to drum up television appearances including his much dreamed about Martha Stewart spot.  The morning of the video shoot, while he was still trying to settle upon a topic, his neighbor Elena walked by.  She was delivering the caterpillar of a Tomato Hornworm to the child of another neighbor who was raising them to observe metamorphosis.  Daniel knew he had one lurking on one of his tomato plants because of the telltale signs of chewed leaves and green droppings, and he quickly located the culprit.  He was going to give it to Elena to deliver along with her caterpillar, but at the last moment, he decided it would be a nice treat for his Fuzzy Bottom Gals, the new chickens.  Moments after the happy chicks finished fighting over the succulent green caterpillar, Daniel realized he had just fed the ideal topic for the video to the gals, and he decided to walk to the neighbor’s house to borrow the Tomato Hornworm Elena had found.  He returned with the caterpillar in a plastic produce box and sat to write the bullet points for the video monologue, not wanting to place the Tomato Hornworm on the plant too early since they are so well camouflaged and he wanted to be able to place it where the camera could easily include it.  About a half an hour before the video shoot, Daniel discovered that the Tomato Hornworm had escaped and it was nowhere to be found, so two different caterpillar subjects evaded a video appearance.  Undaunted, Daniel did the video without the subject actually appearing.  Hopefully he will be bright, witty and charming enough to entice the producers of the Martha Stewart Show to consider him for a guest appearance, even without a caterpillar.  Daniel still has to inform the little girl up the street, Milo, that her Tomato Hornworm is an escape artist.

Update on the Tobacco Hornworm:  Parasitized by Braconid Wasp!!!
What a great story! I hope the little girl wasn’t upset about her caterpillar. Sad update though, it has since died. We decided after my first email to keep it and hope for the best. Fed it many fresh tomato leaves and thought things were going well. It got lethargic so I sat the critter carrier we bought for him outside in the sunlight and hoped the warmth would help him. The next day, my daughter came running in and told me of the oval things on its back. I had to break the news that this poor caterpillar was dying and there was nothing I could do. I’ve attached the most recent photo of our poor caterpillar in case you want to use it on the site.

Tobacco Hornworm parasitized by Braconid Wasp

Thanks for the update Jessica,
Daniel has still not told Milo, but he did notify her father that he would pay a visit and provide an explanation.  Your Tobacco Hornworm was a goner before you discovered it.  It had been parasitized by a Braconid Wasp.  The Braconid lays eggs by “injecting” them into the Hornworm with an ovipositor.  The larval Braconids feed upon the internal organs of the Hornworm, eventually emerging to pupate on the surface, which your photograph illustrates.  Braconids are considered biological control methods for many agricultural pests, though their hosts are not limited to plant feeding insects.  Most Braconids are very species specific when it comes to the choice of where to lay eggs.

Update on Mt Washington Tobacco Hornworms
August 24, 2010
Daniel told Milo and she was understanding.  Daniel spotted this Tobacco Hornworm on the Caspian Pink, and he is going to let Milo know there is a caterpillar for her.  He is going to recommend a terrarium with a live potted tomato plant for raising it.

 

Letter 25 – Tobacco Hornworm (Caterpillar of the Carolina Sphinx) Parasitized by Braconid

 

Tomato horn worm and a killer?
Location:  South-Eastern Michigan
August 19, 2010 1:49 pm
I took this picture in my garden today, I was told that the caterpillar is known as a Tomato Horn Worm. I was wondering what kind of moth or butterfly does this caterpillar turn into (if it turns into one at all) and what are the white larvae on it’s body?
Thank you so much.
Curious about Critters

Tobacco Hornworm Parasitized by Braconid Wasp

Dear Curious about Critters,
You caterpillar appears to be a Tobacco Hornworm, not a Tomato Hornworm, a funny distinction since both feed on tomato and other solanaceous plants.  According to BugGuide, the two may be distinguished from one another by:  “Larva: large green body; dorsal “horn” (usually curved and orange, pink or red) on terminal abdominal segment; up to seven oblique whitish lateral lines, edged with black on upper borders.  The similar looking Tomato Hornworm, Manduca quinquemaculata, has eight v-shaped stripes and a straight blue-black horn. These caterpillars are often confused and misidentified.
”  The cocoons belong to pupal Braconid Wasps which tomato feeding Manduca caterpillars.  This parasitized caterpillar will not mature, but if it had not become a living feast for the parasites, it would have buried itself in the ground to metamorphose into a juglike pupa (see BugGuide), and then emerged an adult Hawkmoth with narrow gray, patterned wings and yellow spots on the body (see bugGuide).

Letter 26 – Tobacco Hornworm

 

Location: Auburn, CA
November 7, 2010 2:20 pm
We found this guy on our Serrano pepper plant a couple months ago, then he disappeared (thought he might have been a spicy treat for a bird), but yesterday we found him and a friend on our adjacent Jalapeno and Anaheim plants. They are 5-6” long. Interested to see what they become. Love your site. Thank you.
Signature: Auburn Jeff

Tobacco Hornworm

Hi Jeff,
Your caterpillar is a Tobacco Hornworm,
Manduca sexta, also known as the Carolina Sphinx.  These caterpillars are most frequently found feeding on the leaves of tomato plants, but they will also feed on related plants in the nightshade family including pepper.  The individual you found several months ago may have gone underground and metamorphosed and we feel the current caterpillars are different individuals.

Letter 27 – Tobacco Hornworms

 

Subject: Giant Green Caterpillar!!
Location: The backyard. (Shenandoah Valley in Virginia, near Harrisonburg)
July 30, 2012 7:45 pm
Dearest Bug Man,
You are looking at two big ugly green caterpillars… I’ve already looked, and I like to see new bugs, but I gotta say – these big fat guys creeped me out a bit.
What ARE these creatures? I noticed something was eating my bush moon-flower leaves and when I started turning over leaves this is what I found! I’ve never seen this mammoth before… and they cleverly blend right in with the plant. I tried looking up ’giant green caterpillar’ and it might be some kind of horn worm, but I’m not sure.
I captured them and isolated them with their leaves under a big plastic storage thingie to see what happens…… Do I want to know? What do they turn into? Can I spray my moon-flowers with Neem Oil? I don’t want to get rid of a perfectly good bug, but they’re eating my beautiful moon-flowers!! I’m in VA in the Shenandoah Valley, and so are the bugs!
Thanks so much,
Virginia Caterpillar Warden
Signature: Virginia Caterpillar Warden

Tobacco Hornworms

Dear Virginia Caterpillar Warden,
These are Carolina Sphinx Caterpillars,
Manduca sexta, commonly called Tobacco Hornworms though they are generally found eating the leaves of tomato plants in home gardens.  We wanted to research your Bush Moonflower and most photos online indicate it is a Datura which is consistent with the diet of the Tobacco Hornworms of plants in the family Solanacea.  Adult Carolina Sphinxes are large brownish gray moths with yellow spots on the body.  Though they are not vibrantly colored, they are quite attractive.  A few caterpillars will most likely not harm your plant too severely.  We always leave caterpillars on our tomato plants despite their ravenous appetites.  See Sphingidae of the Americas for more information on the Tobacco Hornworms.

Wow!  Thanks Daniel!
You’re right about the moon-flower – it’s a Datura. If the Sphinxes like tomatoes they’ll love these plants because they are in the nightshade family.   I only found two, so I’ll keep my fingers crossed that I don’t get more and get my flowers ravaged!  They are only on one plant…. now I guess I’ll have to check everyday.
The Moon Flower plants are new for me and were sent as root transplants from Joplin MO.  They are still only about 1 1/2 ‘ and I don’t want to lose the blooms.  The flowers open in the evening and into the night and are stunning.
You’ve given me some great resources to learn more about the hornworms!
Thank-you so much!
Jennifer

Letter 28 – Tobacco Hornworm

 

Subject: Moth Caterpillar inf California
Location: California
July 16, 2014 7:27 am
My husband found this caterpillar on our garden 5 days ago and has been keeping it in a plastic bowl and feeding it with leaves so it won’t eat our plants. Do you know what this is? How long will it be before it turns into a moth or a butterfly? Thanks! We live in Chino Hills, California and it is the middle of summer.
Signature: Ana

Tobacco Hornworm
Tobacco Hornworm

Dear Ana,
Your caterpillar is a Tobacco Hornworm,
Manduca sexta, one of two closely related, similar looking species that feeds on the leaves of tomatoes and other related plants in the family.  According to the Sphingidae of the Americas website:  “Tobacco Hornworms, equipped with a red-tipped horn at the end of the abdomen, are true gluttons and feed on tobacco and tomato, and occasionally potato and pepper crops and other plants in the nightshade family (Solanaceae).”

 

”  

Letter 29 – Spiracles on Tobacco Hornworm

 

Subject: Tobacco Hornworm “Eyeballs”
Location: Silver Lake
September 19, 2014 3:13 pm
Hi Bugman,
There was only one of these giant hornworm caterpillars on the now dying tomato plant. I was quite surprised by the row of “eyeballs” on either side of the beast. I imagine they are solely for camouflage. Or do they serve another purpose?
Signature: Diane E

Spiracles of a Tobacco Hornworm
Spiracles of a Tobacco Hornworm

Dear Diane,
The organs to which you refer are known a spiracles, and they enable the Tobacco Hornworm,
Manduca sexta, to breathe.  Spiracles are not unique to the Tobacco Hornworm (see BugGuide).  We are unable to do additional research at this time as our search engine keeps crashing our server.

Letter 30 – Tobacco Hornworm

 

Subject: Large green catapiller
Location: waukesha wi
August 5, 2015 5:34 pm
found this guy munching away on my tomato plants. He cleaned a few branches bare so I relocated him. Roughly 3 inches long, 3/4 wide.
Signature: Wi gardener

Tobacco Hornworm
Tobacco Hornworm

Dear Wi gardener,
This is a Tobacco Hornworm,
Manduca sexta, one of two species of related caterpillars that are frequently found feeding on the leaves of tomatoes and related plants.

Letter 31 – Tobacco Hornworm

 

Subject: Caterpillars
Location: Las Vegas, NV
October 11, 2015 8:18 am
I found this caterpillar outside in our back yard but I wanted to know what specific type of caterpillar it was.
Signature: -Liz

Tobacco Hornworm
Tobacco Hornworm

Dear Liz,
We are speculating that you have tomato plants in your back yard and that you have only recently begun growing them.  This is a Tobacco Hornworm, the caterpillar of the Carolina Sphinx, one of two species of similar looking and closely related caterpillars that feed on the leaves of tomatoes and other closely related plants in the nightshade family, a family that also includes peppers, eggplant, and non-native species like jimson weed.

Letter 32 – Tobacco Hornworm

 

Subject: Caterpillar
Location: South-eastern CT
July 30, 2016 2:41 pm
I found this green guy on a tomato plant. Should I be concerned about whether he will damage the plant? It’s the end of a hot sunny July.
Signature: Emily

Tobacco Hornworm
Tobacco Hornworm

Dear Emily,
Though they are frequently found eating the leaves of tomato plants (and other plants in the family including pepper and eggplant), the caterpillar of the Carolina Sphinx,
Manduca sexta, is commonly called a Tobacco Hornworm.  They will eat leaves and numerous Tobacco Hornworms may defoliate a small tomato plant.  They will also eat green tomatoes.  Many gardeners remove them.  We do not.  We suspect if you did not remove it, it is long gone, having dug beneath the surface of the ground to pupate.  We frequently received requests to identify the pupae of the Carolina Sphinx when gardeners discover them while turning the soil the following season.  The adult Carolina Sphinx is an impressive moth. 

Letter 33 – Tobacco Hornworm

 

Subject: What’s this big?
Location: Las Vegas, NV
October 8, 2016 4:23 pm
My grandparents live in Las Vegas, Nevada. They were trimming their hot pepper plants this morning and found this guy. Just wondering what kind it is and if it can be incubated. Thanks!
Signature: Jess

Tobacco Hornworm
Tobacco Hornworm

Dear Jess,
There are two similar looking, closely related Hornworms in the genus
Manduca that both feed on pepper, tomato and eggplant leaves, all members of the nightshade family.  Your caterpillar is the Tobacco Hornworm, the larva of the Carolina Sphinx.  You can continue to feed this Tobacco Hornworm leaves of pepper or tomato plants until it is ready to pupate, which it will do underground.  Providing loose, moist but not damp soil, will allow it to metamorphose in captivity.

Letter 34 – Tobacco Hornworm

 

Subject: Caterpillar in San Diego
Location: Coastal San Diego
July 15, 2017 4:18 pm
Looking to find out what type of caterpillar this is your and what they typically eat. We’re in coastal San Diego and it’s mid July. Something has eaten my tomatoes but not sure it’s the caterpillar or birds.
Signature: Hanna

Tobacco Hornworm

Dear Hanna,
Though it is commonly called a Tobacco Hornworm, this caterpillar is frequently found feeding on tomato plants.  Here is a BugGuidetobacc image for comparison.

Letter 35 – Parasitized Tobacco Hornworm

 

Subject:  Caterpillar Found on a tomato plant
Geographic location of the bug:  Bridgeview, IL
Date: 08/25/2018
Time: 10:09 AM EDT
Your letter to the bugman:  Are those eggs on it’s back?  Do i need to worry?
How you want your letter signed:  Steve Guptill

Parasitized Tobacco Hornworm

Dear Steve,
Your caterpillar is a Tobacco Hornworm, and what you have mistaken for eggs are the pupae of a parasitic Braconid Wasp.

Letter 36 – Tobacco Hornworm

 

Subject:  Huge caterpillar!
Geographic location of the bug:  Northern California
Date: 07/26/2019
Time: 03:09 AM EDT
Your letter to the bugman:  Hi,
I have never seen this large of a caterpillar ever, not in the great outdoors nor in a museum! It was happily munching on our green tomatoes. It was 3/4” thick and almost 3 inches long. Was incredible! Thank you!
How you want your letter signed:  Thanks, Aimee

Tobacco Hornworm

Dear Aimee,
Have you been growing tomatoes for many years?  Most gardeners who grow tomatoes are familiar with the Tobacco Hornworm, the larva of the Carolina Sphinx,
Manduca sexta, which feeds on the leaves and occasionally fruit of tomatoes and other related plants.  Here is a BugGuide image for comparison.

Hi Daniel,
Thank you for this! I have, but have never seen a caterpillar like this! 🙂 Are both moths and butterflies called “caterpillars” in this stage?
Thank you,
Aimee
 
Hi again Aimee,
The larvae of both butterflies and moths are commonly called caterpillars, but some caterpillars have more specific names like the Hornworms of the family Sphingidae, the group to which your Tobacco Hornworm belongs, and that name refers to the caudal horn found on many members of the family.  After the caterpillar stage, both butterflies and moths have a pupal stage, commonly called a chrysalis for butterflies, and cocoon for a moth when the pupa is encased in a silken housing.  Generally speaking, the Caterpillars of moths are bigger than the caterpillars of butterflies, and some of the largest North American caterpillars are the Hickory Horned Devil and the Fig Sphinx caterpillar.  In Northern California, other large caterpillars you might encounter are the Polyphemus Moth Caterpillar and the Ceanothus Silkmoth Caterpillar.
 
Ah, I see, that is great to know. Thank you so much for your time, I really appreciate it!
Kindly,
Aimee

Letter 37 – Tomato Hornworm

 

So we found 3 of these in the soil of our vegetable garden. In case location info helps, we live in Orange County, California about 4 miles from the beach and our soil has a lot of clay. The only things I’ve seen large enough to come from this are what are commonly called tomatoe worms here, or potato bugs. We saw a couple potato bugs in the garden last year but I haven’t been able to find any information about their life cycle, so I guess my question is two-fold: what is this chrysalis, and if it’s not a potato bug, what is the life cycle of a potato bug?
Thanks,
Linda

Hi Linda,
You have a pupa from the Tomato Hornworm, also known as the Tobacco Sphinx, Manduca sexta. The large green caterpillars you find on your tomato plants bury themselves in the dirt and pupate into the form you have dug up. They emerge as large moths, lay eggs and begin the cycle again.

Letter 38 – I thought you might want this pic of Tomato Hornworm…

 

I did my research on your site (it was very helpful…thanks) and took this pic to send for your files if you want it…
Liisa Abbatiello

Dear Liisa,
I’m so glad our site was helpful. We have gotten several letters describing what your photo depicts, the parasitization of the Tomato Hornworm by Braconid Wasps. A picture is worth 1000 words. Thank you so much.

A HUGE bug I thought was going to carry my dachshund away!!!

Dear Bugman,
I looked through ALL of your pictures to try to ID my bug and not “bug” you, but I didn’t see it. I live in San Antonio, TX. The other night I heard a loud “bump” on the window near my recliner. I looked out to see the LARGEST bug I have ever seen. I thought perhaps it was a bird or a bat, but it hid under my son’s toy lawnmower, and my husband got a broom to move the lawnmower to get it out, and he said it was a bug. It was attracted to light, because when it was dark outside, it hit my window trying to get to my light inside. When we turned the lights on the porch on, he flew around, rather clumsily, toward the light. It’s wingspan had to be close to 6″-8″, and it was black and white variegated, almost like a flame stitch… kind of striped, but scribble striped. I swear I thought it had a skin-like covering over itself. I didn’t see an exoskeleton, but my husband swore it was a bug, and he was closer to it.
Thank You
Rebecca

Dear Rebecca,
I sure hope I can help you before you loose your dachsund. I’m not exactly sure, but here goes a guess. Tobacco Sphinx Moths, Manduca Sexta, grow large, and can have a wingspan in excess of five inches. They also have a robust body. They are attracted to lights and have a mottled pattern on the wings much as you describe. Since their bodies are covered with scales, they do not appear to have an exoskeleton. Here is a photo. Let us know.

 

Letter 39 – Ficus Sphinx Green Morph and Tomato Hornworm

 

Caterpillar ID
Hi,
I live in South Florida.
I’ve been ‘searching and squishing’ Tomato Hornworm caterpillars on my tomato plants for over a month now. (Resisting temptation to use poisons). I’m sending you a quite nice photo I took of one before the squish, in case you want it for your site. Today I found a large, superficially similar caterpillar on my fig tree. I know it’s not the same. But what is it? I’m including two photos of the ‘fig caterpillar’. I suspect it’s a butterfly. I’ve included a photo of a pair of one species I found mating there, and two of another butterfly that spent a lot of time in the tree. The lone butterfly is a species I’d never even seen before. The tree can well spare a few leaves, and there’s only one of these caterpillars as far as I can tell, so I’ve left it alone. I’m curious to know what it is and if you can identify the butterflies as well, that would be lovely.
Marian Mendez

Ficus Sphinx: Green Morph Tomato Hornworm


Hi Marian,
We are very excited to receive your letter and your wonderful photographs. I have to answer in stages though since the letter will go on multiple pages on our site. First, your unidentified caterpillar is a Ficus Sphinx, Pachylia ficus. There are many color morphs of this caterpillar and we have received an orange, magenta and green version in the past. Bill Oehlke has a wonderful site with photographs of many color morphs of this caterpillar as well as the adult moths. Also check out Marian’s butterflies.

Letter 40 – Tomato Bug: But is it a Tomato Hornworm or a Tobacco Hornworm

 

a strange large bug in our garden
Location:  West Mifflin, Pa, 6 miles south of Pittsburgh PA in our garden
August 19, 2010 6:17 pm
We found this on our tomato plants & we have never seen anything like this. Any information you can share with us about it would be greatly appreciated, including what are the white things attached to it? Should we be concerned for any reason or take precautions, or just ignore it?
Thank you, Crystal Lyons

Tomato Bug

Hi Crystal,
Alas, your Tomato Bug is not long for this world as it has been parasitized by a Braconid Wasp, mostly small wasps that lay their eggs inside of living insects, often caterpillars.  The female Braconid Wasp has an ovipositor and she injects the living hosts with an egg mass.  The Larval Braconid Wasps feed on the internal organs of the
caterpillar, being careful to stay clear of vital organs that would cause the caterpillar to die and the caterpillar flesh to putrify and dry out, an unappetizing meal for the Braconid Larvae.  According to BugGuide, the Braconid Wasp that parasitizes the Tomato Bugs is Cotesia congregata.  Please forgive us for using a very non-entomological term, Tomato Bug.  Grandma used to call any large, green caterpillar with a horn a Tomato Bug.  She didn’t care if it was the Tobacco Hornworm, Manduca sexta (see BugGuide), or the Tomato Hornworm, Manduca quinquemaculata (see BugGuide).  She didn’t know it is not a True Bug in the suborder Heteroptera (See BugGuide).

Letter 41 – Tomato Hornworm parasitized by Braconid Wasps

 

What’s this bug
Location: West Virginia
June 30, 2011 2:53 pm
Hi there. I have seen this guy twice now and have no idea what kind of critter it is. Any ideas? Thanks much.
Signature: Bill Wells

Tomato Hornworm parasitized by Braconid Wasp

Hi Bill,
The caterpillar is a Tomato Hornworm, and it has been parasitized by a Braconid Wasp.  The female Braconid Wasp lays her eggs inside the body of the Hornworm, and the larval wasps feed on the tissues of the Hornworm.  Eventually, the Braconid Larvae burrow to the surface and form cocoons, which is what you are seeing.  Here is a nice set of images from BugGuide.  The Hornworm will not live to metamorphose into a moth.

Letter 42 – Tomato Hornworm Pupa

 

What in the world is this???
Location: Central Texas
July 13, 2011 3:34 pm
I was uprooting my tomato plants when I saw this in the soil in the container (IE: not from the ground) At first glance, I thought it was just a small pine cone or something…until it MOVED. Thought it might be a ”stinger” on the end, so I didn’t touch it. Is it harmful? Is it some kind of larvae? What in the world is this?
Signature: Craig

Tomato Hornworm Pupa

Dear Craig,
You have unearthed the pupa of a Sphinx Moth in the genus
Manduca.  There are two species in the genus whose caterpillars feed on the leaves of tomatoes and related plants.  Gardeners sometimes call them Tomato Bugs and they are also frequently called Tomato Hornworms because of the prominent caudal horn.  The body part that seems to resemble the handle of a jug is the case for the long proboscis, the strawlike sucking mouth of the adult moth which enables it to draw nectar from deep throated flowers like honeysuckle.

Thanks Daniel!
After not having a CLUE what it was on my own investigation, I found your website.  Appreciate your expert identification.  It’s nice to finally but a name with a face…..or….bug… 😉
Thanks for your time!
Craig

Letter 43 – Tomato Hornworm: Dark Form

 

caterpillar
Location: Cheyenne, Wyoming
August 1, 2011 12:12 pm
Please identify. Many of these healthy looking critters are in our greenhouse munching away on the remaining tomatoes!
Signature: Beth

Tomato Hornworm

Hi Beth,
We only know of two Sphinx Caterpillars, commonly called Hornworms, that feed upon tomato, and they are both green, so we were very surprised to learn that the Tomato Hornworm,
Manduca quinquemaculata, also has a dark form.  Your individual is considerably darker than the example posted on the Sphingidae of the Americas website, the best place to identify Sphinx Moths in the family Sphingidae.  We are going to copy the webmaster at Sphingidae of the Americas, Bill Oehlke, because he may be interested in posting your very dark Tomato Hornworm.

Bill Oehlke responds
Hi Daniel,
The dark form is actually quite common. There are a couple of links on quinquemaculatus file where sources have sent green and dark forms feeding in same location, some of them are very dark.
Thanks for thinking of me. The Laramie County sighting confirms/documents a suspected presence in that county.
Bill Oehlke

Hello Dan,
Thanks for doing the work! I am intrigued!  We have not used any pesticide in the greenhouse and only had a limited amount of tomatoes.
Thanks for passing this on – my husband and I are teachers, Paul a middle grades science teacher and I teach second grade so this will start the year with interest for the kids.
With appreciation,
Beth Crips

gardening blog update:  August 18, 2011
We allow Tomato Hornworms and Tobacco Hornworms to feed on our tomato plants.  There are usually no more than two caterpillars per plant.  We love the adult moths, though we have only seen one.  The pupa we tried to raise in a terrarium emerged and its wings did not enlarge.  It might benefit this species for the female to stay by the food source and attract the male.

Letter 44 – Dark Tomato Hornworm and Tobacco Hornworm

 

Subject: Dark Hornworm
Location: Lake Ann Michigan
September 9, 2015 1:16 pm
Found both the normal green hornworm and the almost black one on 8/17/14 just 3 miles south of the Village of Lake Ann, Michigan. zip code 49643.
The darker one was much more aggresive, vibrated and emitted an odd noise when handled even slightly.
Found a total of 4 that year.
Signature: Bryan Black

Tobacco Hornworms:  Dark and Light Morphs
Dark Tomato Hornworm and Tobacco Hornworm

Dear Bryan,
Though they were both probably feeding on Tomato Plants, your two Hornworms represent different species in the same genus.  The dark Hornworm is a dark morph of a Tomato Hornworm,
Manduca quinquemaculatus, and the green Hornworm is a Tobacco Hornworm, Manduca sexta.  It is very curious that the Tomato Hornworm was the more aggressive of the two.

Letter 45 – What’s That Eyecatcher?

 

I guess you already know that you must have a male cricket to get singing. I have known people who bought large quantities of crickets from the pet store to use in art installations as a sound component, so I know that pet store crickets will sing, though their songs are frail. Additionally, store crickets, usually European House Crickets (Acheta domesticus) are not very attractive, since they are an anemic shade of tan. Garden crickets or Field Crickets (Gryllus species) are a beautiful glossy black and have a robust chirp. Singing generally occurs in spring and early summer. I had a Field Cricket move into my bathroom sink drain many years ago, and it managed to hide somewhere in the pipes whenever I ran the water, though I was careful to not scald the free-loader. My cricket would sing constantly. I would recommend locating a cricket in your garden by tracking its chirp. Give it a cool, dark place and hope for the best. I cannot come up with a logical reason why your captives are mute, and I would suggest patience. Give the guy a chance to adapt, and eventually his romantic inclinations should bring on the song.


March 14, 2002
This is Ken Blanchard from the forum of cryptozoology.com. After inquiring about a weird caterpillar sighting I had years ago, I was referred to your Daniel Marlos. I can’t find a specific e-mail address to him on any of the insect pages, so I’d appreciate it if you would forward this to him.
Seven summers ago, my family and I were camping in the Catskills of New York State. While walking across a sickly campground lawn, I spotted a mostly to entirely pink hornworm crawling across the grass. It was about 5 inches long and about 0.75 inches thick. Its body was very smooth and it lacked the characteristic spine on its rump that is characteristic of hornworms. The lack of a spine appeared to be normal as the larva was
completely uninjured. I captured it and it cocooned itself within a few hours. Being just a foolish kid at the time and not thinking about the possible cryptozoological importance of my find, I threw the cocoon into the woods and never retrieved it. Is there a known lepidopteran in NY that starts out as such a larva? If not, then I made a big mistake, but at least it shows that I can make another entomological discovery here in NY if I try hard enough.

Dear Ken,
Hornworms, the larvae of the sphinx moths, do not form cocoons, choosing instead to bury themselves in the ground where they pupate. Caterpillars from the Saturnidae or giant silk moths, do however, form cocoons. They are also among the largest caterpillars in North America. Members of this family include the Cecropia, the Polyphemus and the Prometheus moths. All have caterpillars of varying shades of green. The adult moths from this family live only a few days, do not eat as adults, and their sole purpose in life is to mate and produce a new generation. One of the rarest and most beautiful of the Saturnidae is the pale green Luna moth which flies near dawn in the late spring.
Your caterpillar was pink. You will not find this caterpillar in any text on North American lepidoptera, which makes it an excellent candidate for cryptozoology. I was lucky enough many years ago, just before dawn on a blue moon in May, to encounter the comely specimen in this photo in Northeastern Ohio. It is a very rare color variation of the luna moth (I am the only known observer) which I have named Actias luna var. magenta. Magenta is the complimentary color to green, the normal hue of the moth, but magenta does not exist in the visible spectrum. It is created when the longest light rays, the red ones, are combined with the shortest light rays, the blue ones, turning the visible spectrum into a man-made color wheel. Magenta has no true wavelength, and since it is composed of the longest and
shortest light rays combined, the color tends to vibrate.
Ken, had you not, in a youthful lapse in judgement, pitched your cocoon into the woods, you might have been fortunate enough to witness a similar moth metamorphose before your very eyes. Tough luck.

Dear What’s that Bug,
Being from Georgia I am used to hearing insects chirping at night and even bullfrogs doing their thing in the backyard. I am fond of these sounds and find them relaxing. And I know that having a cricket inside is supposed to be good luck. (Or is it just good luck if it is in your closet?)
However, the cricket or other chirping insect that is currently residing in my bathroom is not making me happy or relaxed. In fact, it is getting on my nerves and disturbing my sleep. I want to know what I should do. I don’t want to hear this sound that sort of echoes around in my empty bathroom but I don’t really want to kill this bug, nor would I really know how.
I have not spotted the bug, but it is really making it’s presence known. Any advice?
Thanks!
Amanda

Dear Amanda,
There are many folk beliefs in existence about crickets. Their presence in the home is generally thought to be an omen of good fortune in many parts of the world, and in China they are kept in captivity. The Chinese also match crickets for combat in a sport that is as popular there as cock fighting is in other countries. Extravagant wages are made on the outcome of championship fights.
The most common species in Southern California is the Tree Cricket (Oecanthus sp.) which is generally found in gardens and is almost always heard and not seen. They are usually green or white in color and only about 1/2 an inch long. It is common knowledge that the chirp rate of this cricket varies with the surrounding temperature, increasing at higher degrees and decreasing at lower ones. This fact has inspired formulas for calculating the temperature from the number of chirps per minute. The Snowy Tree Cricket, also called the Thermometer Cricket (Oecanthus fultoni) indicates the temperature in degrees Fahrenheit if one counts the number of chirps in 13 seconds and adds 40.
Your tenant is, however, more likely another type of cricket. Field Crickets (Gryllus sp.) are much larger than tree crickets, with body lengths up to 1 1/4 inches. Field Crickets live on the ground in fissures and under litter, vegetation and stones. They sometimes sing in the morning or late afternoon, but more usually at night when they come out to feed on all sorts of organic matter. They occasionally enter homes and become a nuisance by their unwelcome presence and incessant chirping.
A third possibility is that you are hosting a European House Cricket (Acheta domesticus) which are about 3/4 inch long as straw-brown in color. The species was apparently introduced into the eastern United States from Europe, although its original home may have been Africa. It has since become widespread in Southern California, where it is usually associated with human habitations. Lacking a dormancy period and hence being easy to raise, it is sold as fish bait and animal food in pet stores. Its chirp is frail and attracts less attention than that of its Field Cricket relatives. Bathrooms and kitchens are the most likely places to find crickets in the home.
I once had one who lived in the drain of my bathroom sink and I found its chirping to be quite soothing. I think you should lighten up and surrender to the sounds of nature.

back to top

Dear What’s That Bug,
I was walking through the woods yesterday evening when I ran across several of these creatures. We live in the southeastern U.S….these were found near dusk in a drizzle in a forest. I have always heard of them being called ‘cherry bugs’ due to the scent that they emit when startled or feel threatened…they are between 1.5 and 2.5 inches in length, black, with yellow spots down not only the sides, but also down the center of the back as well. All markings are symmetrical. They look *very* similar to a picture I saw of a yellow-spotted millipede…the difference being the extra row of yellow spots down the center of the back….plus, the yellow-spots are from Oregon…and we are in Tennessee. I am curious to know what exactly these are, they are interesting creatures, and I’d like to know a bit more about them. Also, any care advice would be appreciated as well.
Thank you! –
Christina Loder

Dear Christina,
Unfortunately, if you enclosed a photograph, it did not arrive. Based on your description, and your latitude and longitude, I would guess that you have stumbled upon some caterpillars, more specifically, the larvae of some local swallowtail (Papilio sp.) My guess would be the larvae of the black swallowtail butterfly, which feeds on parsley and related plants including Queen Anne’s Lace which grows in uncultivated meadows. The caterpillars are green, black and yellow, and have two orange horns which are hidden near the head. When the caterpillar is threatened, the horns emerge, along with a musty smell that I would not really liken to the scent of cherries. Try this: http://www.ivyhall.district96.k12.il.us/4th/kkhp/
1insects/BSC.html

If you keep them in captivity, you can feed them carrot tops. They will form a crysalid and a butterfly will eventually emerge.

back to top

 


Dear Readers,

In the 2 1/2 years that I have been writing this column, “What’s That Bug?,” I often seem to get questions concerning the same creepy, crawly culprits over and over again. This is most noticeably evidenced by the plethora of readers who have encountered the dreaded no-see-ums. A recent letter on that peskiest of pests is still waiting for my reply. Writing these replies has also caused me to become hyper-aware of bugs that have caught my readers’ eyes. With this in mind, I have decided to launch a new offshoot of “What’s That Bug?” subtitled “Where Are They Now.”
It is only fitting that the inaugural bug for this new column should be one from the debut issue of American Homebody, so I am rerunning one of my initial letters.

Dear Daniel,
Perhaps you can help me figure out the answer to the perennial question: What’s That Bug? It’s hard to draw this bug. It was moving so fast and very erratically and it was extremely LOUD buzzing and it swerved towards me as if it were drunk! I drew it actual size–to the best of my knowledge.

Dear Bugged by Buzzing Behemoth,
To the best of my knowledge, you have had an encounter with a female Valley Carpenter Bee (Xylocopa varipuncta). These very large (1 inch) bees are so named because they bore into wood, forming tunnel-like nests for the rearing of young. Telephone poles and fences are often attacked. The Valley Carpenter Bee has earned itself a bad reputation because of its formidable size and habit of “buzzing” people. The green-eyed male is light brown with golden hairs and looks velvety. The female is a shiny black with bronze reflections on the wings. The female bees can sting, but do so very reluctantly, causing only mild pain.

WHERE ARE THEY NOW?
Late in the afternoon on Labor Day, while preparing for Diorama Club, I noticed a very large, very shiny female Valley Carpenter Bee buzzing loudly and crawling around on a dead branch of my carob tree. I also noticed a perfectly round hole in her proximity. Issuing from the hole was additional buzzing. In the spring, a female VCB had been seen in the vicinity. At that time the honeysuckle was in full bloom along the street, and female VCB’s were often found lapping up nectar. Could it be that I was witnessing the emergence of her brood from the tunnel she had dug for them? I hoped if I watched long enough, I would get to see one of the males. The sexual dimorphism that occurs in the VCB is quite extreme, and a Casual Observer

Authors

    by
  • Bugman

    Bugman aka Daniel Marlos has been identifying bugs since 1999. whatsthatbug.com is his passion project and it has helped millions of readers identify the bug that has been bugging them for over two decades. You can reach out to him through our Contact Page.

  • Piyushi Dhir

    Piyushi is a nature lover, blogger and traveler at heart. She lives in beautiful Canada with her family. Piyushi is an animal lover and loves to write about all creatures.

44 thoughts on “Hornworm: All You Need To Know”

  1. Very interesting! I was first confused by the colour of this specimen – though Agrius cingulatus could also occur in very similar colour variations (as is the case in Agrius convolvuli from the Old World) – and its unusual pattern of the regularly drawn white stripes (which, indeed, can occur in the grassgreen type of A. convolvuli caterpillars as well, as sometimes found in summer months in Europe and Japan). But as the original colour is not easy to see (for the caterpillar is possibly infected or already entered the pupating stage), we need to focus on some details to identify it; the clear black-white pattern of its graspers and roundly circled anterior stigmae finally reveal a species of Manduca (M. sexta, according to its colour pattern and red horn), and so does its hairy skin (which is completely smooth in Agrius). The second confusion is due to the popular name of the plant; “potato vine” makes us expect an Ipomea batatas (< Mexico) plant from the Convolvulaceae family, but it is actually a real potato relative from the Solanaceae family, namely Solanum jasminoides, a popular ornamental plant with white blossoms and little leafs, climbing over walls, – which corresponds with the fact that this caterpillar was found on or under it. I am highly surprised, btw, by the information that caterpillars of A. cingulatus can also be found feeding on jimsonweed (Datura sp), as no information about any foodplant from the Solanaceae family is yet known for A. convolvuli. I suspect this information originates from the fact that caterpillars of this species can be frequently found along with those of Manduca sexta or M. quinquemaculata, sometimes similar in colour, as Convolvulaceae may often spread over fields cultivated by Solanaceae crops or secondarily covered by jimsonweed – and, maybe, because the moths can be observed feeding from their flowers (misunderstanding). However, both species of caterpillars can be easily found in Arizona – mainly in the autumn, I suppose. There is an easy method to recognize those of Agrius cingulatus: when shocked, they dont know any "sphinx position", but will vigorously turn the head aside instead and swing the body to a circle. And under their head You can see two steadily vibrating tentacles, which are calm in other species.
    Both species can eat quite a lot – but occur singly in nature, due to the fact that attacked plants signalize their infection to other egg-laying females of the species by special pheromones; however, this ability is lost in cultivated plants (on fields with cultured soil), which additionally present a huge secondary biotope for them.

    Thank You for submitting this interesting discovery – and good luck for further sightings!
    What a great page!

    Bostjan Dvorak

    Reply
  2. Very interesting! I was first confused by the colour of this specimen – though Agrius cingulatus could also occur in very similar colour variations (as is the case in Agrius convolvuli from the Old World) – and its unusual pattern of the regularly drawn white stripes (which, indeed, can occur in the grassgreen type of A. convolvuli caterpillars as well, as sometimes found in summer months in Europe and Japan). But as the original colour is not easy to see (for the caterpillar is possibly infected or already entered the pupating stage), we need to focus on some details to identify it; the clear black-white pattern of its graspers and roundly circled anterior stigmae finally reveal a species of Manduca (M. sexta, according to its colour pattern and red horn), and so does its hairy skin (which is completely smooth in Agrius). The second confusion is due to the popular name of the plant; “potato vine” makes us expect an Ipomea batatas (< Mexico) plant from the Convolvulaceae family, but it is actually a real potato relative from the Solanaceae family, namely Solanum jasminoides, a popular ornamental plant with white blossoms and little leafs, climbing over walls, – which corresponds with the fact that this caterpillar was found on or under it. I am highly surprised, btw, by the information that caterpillars of A. cingulatus can also be found feeding on jimsonweed (Datura sp), as no information about any foodplant from the Solanaceae family is yet known for A. convolvuli. I suspect this information originates from the fact that caterpillars of this species can be frequently found along with those of Manduca sexta or M. quinquemaculata, sometimes similar in colour, as Convolvulaceae may often spread over fields cultivated by Solanaceae crops or secondarily covered by jimsonweed – and, maybe, because the moths can be observed feeding from their flowers (misunderstanding). However, both species of caterpillars can be easily found in Arizona – mainly in the autumn, I suppose. There is an easy method to recognize those of Agrius cingulatus: when shocked, they dont know any "sphinx position", but will vigorously turn the head aside instead and swing the body to a circle. And under their head You can see two steadily vibrating tentacles, which are calm in other species.
    Both species can eat quite a lot – but occur singly in nature, due to the fact that attacked plants signalize their infection to other egg-laying females of the species by special pheromones; however, this ability is lost in cultivated plants (on fields with cultured soil), which additionally present a huge secondary biotope for them.

    Thank You for submitting this interesting discovery – and good luck for further sightings!
    What a great page!

    Bostjan Dvorak

    Reply
  3. The information on Tobacco Hornworm (Caterpillar of the Carolina Sphinx) Parasitized by Braconid can be improved. I have many of these exact caterpillars in my backyard. I live in San Diego California and I suggest adding this area for “location” This section will then be more accurate and helpful for others.

    Reply
    • Thanks for your information Luis. The location information is specific to the actual sighting with the photograph. We also have photos from our own offices in Mount Washington, Los Angeles, CA. If you would like to send images of your Tobacco Hornworms, we will gladly post them.

      Reply
  4. My husband just found a dark horn worm with pink markings for the first time. He has killed, through hand picking, over 170 worms this year. We had an amazing amount of the moths this spring. They are in our green house as well in the raised bed gardens. Our location is very close to Death Valley.

    Reply
  5. Hello together,

    this is a very interesting and rather confusing colour variation of a sweet potato hornworm caterpillar (Agrius cinqulatus), I suppose; the brown and brownish pattern variations are more common in the closely related Agrius convolvuli from the Old World, on the other hand.

    Best wishes,
    Bostjan

    Reply
  6. Hi Suzanne,

    Whilst your photo is lovely, I was sad to read that you had trimmed twigs and leaves away to achieve the shot. This is considered to be unethical behaviour by birding and photography organisations as nests are built in concealment for obvious reasons. A friendly reminder that photographers must be mindful of the subjects we are trying to capture as their welfare is always the priority!

    Happy shooting.

    D

    Reply
  7. Hi Suzanne,

    Whilst your photo is lovely, I was sad to read that you had trimmed twigs and leaves away to achieve the shot. This is considered to be unethical behaviour by birding and photography organisations as nests are built in concealment for obvious reasons. A friendly reminder that photographers must be mindful of the subjects we are trying to capture as their welfare is always the priority!

    Happy shooting.

    D

    Reply
  8. Here’s our Tobacco Hornworm…. Thought he was going to turn into a beautiful butterfly ~ oh well ~ a moth will do! Our “Spike Willar Hodges” has become the object of affection for my 5&9yr old daughters. I

    Reply
  9. Kalona iowa here, I just uncovered a hard shelled cucoon with a handle shaped tail. This website informed me that it is a tomato worm which was in the process of becoming a moth. It was found underground where we had our tomatoes planted last year. I set it aside while doing garden work and forgot about it and later tilled the ground. Needless to say, now can’t find it. Guess I’ll just have to be on the lookout for the nasty worms to come harvest the nutrient rich leaves which would otherwise provide me with juicy, delicious tomatoes.

    Reply
  10. KILL THE CATERPILLARS!!!! They will destroy your Moonflowers. Especially since the plant is young. I had caterpillars buzz their way through my Moonflowers, eating the leaves and the blooms. I have two HUGE (2nd year) moonflower vines/bushes, and they just destroyed them. I then learned to use BTK insecticide. I’ll be spraying as soon as this season is over, next month,and then at the very beginning of next season. (I too am in Virginia….in Richmond). They also leave tons on black “waste” all over the place. They are AWFUL!!!!

    Reply
  11. we have 10 of these same catterpiiers on moon flowers. were the eggs laid on the moon flower ? do they bury themselves? since this is sept 1 will they not hatch till spring?

    Reply
    • Tobacco Hornworms do pupate underground, and we cannot predict when they will emerge because you did not provide a location. The further north you live, the better the chances are that a spring emergence is more likely.

      Reply
  12. I found a tobacco Hornworm and was hoping to keep it in the bucket of dirt but the dirt was too wet so now I think it died and I’m kind of sad about it. I then put it in a bucket of shredded paper hoping it’s just in diapause, but I think it might be deceased. Any suggestions or what I should look for if he’s dead? Thanks! ~April~

    Reply
  13. I put lots of grass in my glass aquarium for my bandied sphinx that we caught on the side of a pond while fishing, and assumed that they eat leaves… so I put Grass and leaves in the aquarium as well as large leaves from a flower plant growing outside of my house… He has not eaten any of the leaves or grass and is getting shorter by the day. He pooped a lot on day one of captivating him, and has nearly halved his length, since…(which has been about 4-5 days) Is he dying? Please advise.
    Sincerely,
    Concerned Catterpillar Captain

    Reply
    • According to BugGuide: “Larvae feed on Evening Primrose, Oenothera species, Water Primrose, Ludwigia species, and other related plants (Onagraceae).” Grass and random leaves will not sustain your Banded Sphinx Caterpillar and without the correct food, it will starve. It is also possible that it is preparing to pupate. BugGuide also notes: “Mature larvae leave host foodplant to bury themselves in an underground cavity in fall. Caterpillars pupate during winter, then crawl out of their burrows in Spring (Appear May-August) as Moths.”

      Reply
  14. I put lots of grass in my glass aquarium for my bandied sphinx that we caught on the side of a pond while fishing, and assumed that they eat leaves… so I put Grass and leaves in the aquarium as well as large leaves from a flower plant growing outside of my house… He has not eaten any of the leaves or grass and is getting shorter by the day. He pooped a lot on day one of captivating him, and has nearly halved his length, since…(which has been about 4-5 days) Is he dying? Please advise.
    Sincerely,
    Concerned Catterpillar Captain

    Reply
    • According to Desert Museum: “Known as makkum by the O’odham People, these caterpillars are bright yellow or green with longitudinal black stripes and lateral red dots. Fully grown, they are about three inches in length. … Tohono O’odham men, women, and children collected makkum during the caterpillar’s wandering pre-pupation phase. After removing the head and viscera, the larvae were traditionally roasted over hot coals and either eaten immediately,”

      Reply
  15. Yes, this is a Cocytius antaeus caterpillar on its pupating march! All the speculations and assumptions are correct. The foodplant corresponds… Amazing record, congratulations. It should be unusual to find this species’ caterpillar in such a dry climate area, but, as already commented, there may be reasons… It would be great to observe the pupation of this caterpillar; could You do that? — The caterpillar possibly needs a more humid soil, more of it, and some leaves and other dirt – to construck a crater-like, raised hollow, a kind of nest, inside of which it will calm down and shed…

    Good luck and best wishes from Berlin,
    Bostjan

    Reply
  16. Yes, this is a Cocytius antaeus caterpillar on its pupating march! All the speculations and assumptions are correct. The foodplant corresponds… Amazing record, congratulations. It should be unusual to find this species’ caterpillar in such a dry climate area, but, as already commented, there may be reasons… It would be great to observe the pupation of this caterpillar; could You do that? — The caterpillar possibly needs a more humid soil, more of it, and some leaves and other dirt – to construck a crater-like, raised hollow, a kind of nest, inside of which it will calm down and shed…

    Good luck and best wishes from Berlin,
    Bostjan

    Reply
  17. Dear John, dear Daniel, Thank You so much for this rich information and wonderful documentation!! – For the first time I can see a pupating caterpillar of this species – in live, which is an important experience. An amazing behaviour, the video perfectly documents its movements. This is really a great site. We can discover so much about these fascinating moths here. Many Thanks! – I guess the caterpillar is now hidden and will stay in the construction to pupate… This may take two weeks, but can be finished in some days… After a month or two, You will admire the elegant, huge moth… Good luck and best wishes from Berlin, Bostjan

    Reply
  18. Dear Daniel, dear Mike,

    Thank You so much for kindly sharing this nice hornworm-photo; the Eumorpha (“nice-shaped”)-genus is one of the most fascinating ones among the Dilophonotini… I hesitate here with my judgement too… between the two named species, as their caterpillars are as similar indeed; I tend to say Eumorpha vitis, due to the stripe shape and the position of the little spots…

    Nice pentecostal wishes,
    Bostjan

    Reply
  19. Dear Daniel, dear Mike,

    Thank You so much for kindly sharing this nice hornworm-photo; the Eumorpha (“nice-shaped”)-genus is one of the most fascinating ones among the Dilophonotini… I hesitate here with my judgement too… between the two named species, as their caterpillars are as similar indeed; I tend to say Eumorpha vitis, due to the stripe shape and the position of the little spots…

    Nice pentecostal wishes,
    Bostjan

    Reply
  20. Thanks for your prompt and interesting response. We had no idea of the fascinating things going on right under our noses.

    Reply
  21. I wonder if your friend ever finished her report or if her notes are still safe? I’m from near St George UT. Came here 40 years ago and at that time there still a few Paiute elders who spoke English as a second language. That one old lady used to have access to people’s tomato patches. She would go in there and gather these caterpillars. She would squeeze the guts out and drop the good part into her bucket. I never did hear how they are cooked but i will guess they are parched or toasted.
    Sometimes i see these “hornworms” on Datura plants and i wonder what she would have to say about that.

    Reply

Leave a Comment