How To Breed Hornworms: The Secret To Breeding Them Successfully

Are you planning to breed your own hornworms to feed your pet lizard? Or perhaps you might want to become a commercial breeder? Here’s a guide on how to breed hornworms the right way.

Even though hornworms are pests that can destroy crops and vegetable gardens, they have many beneficial uses. For pet owners who have lizards like bearded dragons, geckos, or chameleons, these worms serve as a nutritious source of pet food. 

Having said that, you might be wondering if you can breed tomato or tobacco hornworms at home instead of buying them online to save money or even become a seller. Well, you can, and this article will show you how to do it.

How To Breed Hornworms: The Complete Guide


Life stages of a hornworm

When hawk moths lay their eggs, it takes about three days for them to hatch. From then on, hornworms have a lifecycle of about four weeks, going from stage to stage. Here’s a breakup of the lifecycle of a hornworm by stages.

  • Egg: Hornworm eggs are light green or yellowish green in color, with a pearly sheen. Hornworm moths usually lay their eggs on both surfaces of the leaves of nightshade plants.
  • Larva: It takes about three days for the larvae to hatch out of the eggs. As they mature into an advanced larval stage, they can move around throughout the plant or even a different plant if needed.
  • Pupa: When a hornworm is ready to pupate into moths, it drops into the soil below and burrows itself. A hornworm pupa is red, unlike green caterpillar pupae.
  • Adult: The pupation stage ends with the emergence of adult moths. This is the final stage in the life cycle of a hornworm.

How To Raise Hornworms to Moths?

The female moths lay eggs from which a new generation of hornworms takes birth. You need to provide the right environment and food for them to grow at each stage. You should try to mimic the same conditions as they would in the wild, except for a few minor differences. Here is a primer on the right conditions you need to provide them as they grow.

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How to keep the eggs?

Let’s start with the very first stage – the eggs. To make a hatching chamber, you can use a plastic cup (transparent, so that you can see inside) or something similar. An average cup is enough for 30 to 50 hornworm eggs.

Follow the steps below to create a hatching chamber:

  • Put a food source in the container, preferably solid food like hornworm chow. If you use liquid food, wait for it to solidify. The layer of food shouldn’t be deeper than a quarter inch. 
  • Next, put some plastic netting in the cup with one end of the netting extending into the food. The netting should be able to hold the food up when the cup is inverted.  
  • Punch a few holes in the cup’s lid for airflow and place it with the inside facing up. Line the inside with two layers of paper towels, tissue paper, or filter paper. Place the eggs on the paper. 
  • Now, invert the cup, place it on the lid, and gently shut the lid. Make sure to keep the lid on at all times. This way, the eggs will remain on the layer of paper.
  • Keep the lid slightly raised from a solid surface to allow air supply.

When the eggs hatch, the larvae will start climbing up the netting to reach the food.

How To Breed Hornworms: The Complete Guide


How To Keep The Larvae?

Don’t move the larvae right after the eggs hatch. Wait until they’re at least about an inch long. If you try to pick up worms smaller than that, you might accidentally squish them. Once the larvae are ready to be moved, follow these steps:

  • Buy vials from a nursery to store your hornworm larvae. Place a single worm in each vial, along with some food. Alternatively, you may also use small deli containers or condiment cups.
  • If keeping individual containers is too much work for you or you don’t have space for so many containers, you can use a large Tupperware box instead. Simply put the larvae at the bottom and put a gutter guard netting over them, with bottle caps underneath to keep the net raised.
  • Now place hornworm food on the netting. This will allow you to clean out the frass or remove moldy food easily.
  • If the lid isn’t transparent, you may cut out a section and glue a transparent plastic screen to it.
  • For quick growth, it’s best to maintain a temperature of around 81° F near the container(s) using a light bulb. You may also delay the growth by providing a cool environment.

Once the hornworms are about an inch long, you can start setting some aside as feeders and leaving only a few to grow and become moths. 

Remember that each hummingbird moth can lay up to a thousand eggs in her lifetime, so you only need to set aside a few moths each time for breeding.

How To Keep The Pupae?

You’ll know your hornworms are ready to pupate once they’re around 3 inches long because they will stop eating. Their appearance will also change, and their color will switch to a lighter shade. In the wild, they would drop off from the leaves and start to burrow in the soil, so you need to provide them with a similar environment at this stage.

  • Fill a container with a substrate like soil, moss, or eco earth. Next, simply shift the hornworms to this container. You might need multiple such containers for this stage.
  • Once the hornworms are ready, they will burrow in the substrate. You might find them roaming around for a couple of days before they burrow.
  • As the worms begin to pupate, their bodies will harden and change to a brown shade.
  • The pupation stage will last two to four weeks. During this period, mist the container daily to ensure proper wing growth.
  • You should also transfer the pupae to a different container with fresh soil every week. Else, the pupae might die and rot due to molding and the accumulation of feces.
  • Try to place a lamp near the container to maintain a temperature of around 81° F and stimulate 14 hours of daylight.
How To Breed Hornworms: The Complete Guide


How To Keep The Moths After Hatching?

As the pupation stage nears its end, you’ll need a flight cage to contain the moths. A simple screen cage should suffice for this. Here’s how to set up the cage:

  • Line the floor of the cage with a plastic sheet so that any dirt kicked up by the moths won’t spill out through the bottom of the cage. Moreover, moths also secrete a liquid called meconium while emerging, which can be rather messy.
  • These moths have a similar feeding style to hummingbirds (which is why they are often called hummingbird moths). They have a long proboscis, which they use to suck nectar from flowers and fruits. Hence, a hummingbird feeder would be ideal for feeding them inside the cage.
  • These moths are picky eaters. The best way to provide them with the necessary nutrition is to feed them commercially available hummingbird food.

Ultimately, it’s time for the final stage – breeding. Place a tomato plant inside the cage for them to lay their eggs on. 

Hornworm moths lay a huge number of eggs, and it can get out of control if you don’t pick the eggs daily. Hornworm eggs are tiny in size and green in color.

Frequently Asked Questions

How To Find Hornworms?

The easiest way to procure hornworms for breeding is to buy them from a nursery, pet food store, or an online seller. 

These pests are a common pet food for lizards, so pet stores selling worms usually stock hornworms. You may also find them in nature, but don’t feed those to your pet as they might be toxic.

How long does it take for hornworms to reproduce?

Female moths can produce eggs startlingly quickly: in just three to four days after coming out from their pupae stage, they are ready to lay eggs. 

These eggs hatch in about three days, and then it takes the hornworms about three to four weeks to pupate into moths.

Do hornworms eat each other?

Hornworms are usually herbivores and rely on a fully plant-based diet. However, in one study, scientists found that caterpillars will resort to cannibalism if they spray a tomato plant with a substance that triggers it to produce toxic substances. So, it is possible. This is why it’s necessary to ensure they always have enough food available.

Do hornworms need water?

Although the hornworm’s body has a high moisture content, they don’t generally have to drink any. The moisture they absorb from the plant on which they are feeding is usually enough to keep them going. 

However, as they can’t feed while pupating, you need to keep the substrate moist by regularly spraying some water on it.  

Wrapping up

Now you know how to breed hornworms at home by helping them grow into moths and keeping the cycle going. 

If you have pet lizards, this should cut down your pet food costs as hornworms tend to be quite expensive. Thank you for reading, and let us know how you used this information for breeding your own hornworms!


  • Bugman

    Bugman aka Daniel Marlos has been identifying bugs since 1999. 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.

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  • 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.

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3 thoughts on “How To Breed Hornworms: The Secret To Breeding Them Successfully”

  1. Minor correction: at least some Sphinx larvae may be poisonous.

    Manduca larvae apparently use the potent defenses of their host plants (including tobacco, how ironic) for their own protection. Of course, none of this makes any difference for the rather alarmed asker, because by definition poisonous caterpillars must be eaten to cause harm.


    • Thanks for that clarification Alex, though it was our understanding that though the Tobacco Hornworm has an unpleasant taste, it is not toxic if ingested.

  2. Minor correction: at least some Sphinx larvae may be poisonous.

    Manduca larvae apparently use the potent defenses of their host plants (including tobacco, how ironic) for their own protection. Of course, none of this makes any difference for the rather alarmed asker, because by definition poisonous caterpillars must be eaten to cause harm.



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