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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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 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?
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.
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:
- Despite being called “hornworms,” they don’t really have a horn – it is just a soft protrusion meant to scare off predators.
- Speaking about predators, these worms emit a strong scent that helps ward off would-be attackers.
- Hornworms frequently shed their skin as they molt.
- Green and black splotches along their body help camouflage them in nature
- Hornworm larvae feed on plants such as tomatoes, peppers, and potatoes
- After reaching maturity, adult moths emerge out of a brown chrysalis shell
- Adult moths sport bright yellow stripes and wings lined with black dots;
- 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.
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 ….??
Signature: Suzanne Niles aka Frogshooter
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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
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.
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)
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
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.
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.
The larvae display several different colour morphs.
Ed. Note: More information on Eumorpha triangulum can be found on Sphingidae of the Americas.
Letter 5 – Hornless Hornworm from Mexico is Typhon Sphinx
Subject: In mexico
Geographic location of the bug: Mexico by Lake Chapala
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?
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)
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
Letter 9 – Banded Sphinx Moth Caterpillars
Banded Sphinx Moth Caterpillars?
Banded Sphinx Moth Caterpillars?
Location: Irmo, South Carolina
August 30, 2010 2:08 pm
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.
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?
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
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.
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
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
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.
Letter 13 – Waved Sphinx Hornworm
Subject: pink & green horned caterpillar
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.
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
November 28, 2015 1:12 pm
We found this caterpillar on our porch. We are wondering what kind species it is. Thanks.
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
December 31, 2015 1:32 pm
Saw this bug in Trinidad but could not find out about what it was called?
Can you help?
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!!!!!
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
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
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
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.
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.
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
Here are links to pics:
Pupa – https://drive.google.com/open?
Specimen got away before I could get a good shot of it fully developed.
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.
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
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
I agree that it is Agrius cingulata.
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.
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
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,
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
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
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,
What a gorgeous image. It makes us a bit nostalgic for Kodachrome.
Letter 24 – Tobacco Hornworm and update with Brachonid Parasites
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!
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.
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
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
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
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!
Letter 28 – Tobacco Hornworm
Subject: Moth Caterpillar inf 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.
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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.
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!
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.
Letter 35 – Parasitized Tobacco Hornworm
Subject: Caterpillar Found on a tomato plant
Geographic location of the bug: Bridgeview, IL
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
Letter 36 – Tobacco Hornworm
Subject: Huge caterpillar!
Geographic location of the bug: Northern California
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
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.
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?
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…
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!!!
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.
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
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.
|Ficus Sphinx: Green Morph||Tomato Hornworm|
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
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
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?
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.
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!
Letter 43 – Tomato Hornworm: Dark Form
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!
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
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.
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.
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
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.