Tobacco Hornworm on Nightshade

what is this bug?
I was weeding my garden today and came across this huge guy! What is it and is it a moth or a butterfly? My kids are so curious! Thank you 🙂
Kelly Dean

Hi Kelly,
Just today, we received the following letter that set us straight. Seems we haven’t really distinguished between two larvae, both commonly found on tomato plants, that Grandma always called “Tomato Bugs.” Your caterpillar is a Tobacco Hornworm.

the difference between Tobacco Hornworms and Tomato Hornworms
(07/28/2006)Tobacco and Tomato Hornworms
You have Manduca sexta and Manduca quinquemaculata both identified as tomato hornworms. I think sexta is the tobacco hornworm; it has seven stripes that are diagonal when viewed from the side, and the “horn” is usually red. Quinquemaculata, the tomato hornworm, has eight markings which, when viewed from the side, look like chevrons pointing towards the head, and the horn is usually black. The pictures on your site are of the tobacco hornworm, which seems to be far more common in gardens; people often ID them as the tomato hornworm because they are eating their tomato plants. The adult tomato hornworm is the 5-spotted hawk moth and the adult tobacco hornworm is the Carolina sphinx moth. I have a tobacco hornworm the size of my thumb in a jar, and its poops are big as rabbits’.

Deadly Nightshade
(08/02/2006) Hi bugman,
I am a professional horticulturist and love your wonderful website! I wanted to let Kelly Dean know that the plant her tobacco hornworm is on in the picture is clearly a deadly nightshade. This beautiful vining plant in the tobacco/tomato family has pretty purple flowers and bright red berries which appeal to children. It is a very poisonous plant! Especially since she has kids in the garden, I would recommend she move the hornworm to a tomato or pepper plant for her kids to study, and get rid of that deadly nightshade. Better safe than sorry! Thanks,
Jenn McCracken
Bucks County, PA

2 thoughts on “Tobacco Hornworm on Nightshade”

  1. I know this is an old post, but for the record, that plant isn’t deadly nightshade (atropa belladonna). It’s either bittersweet nightshade (solanum dulcamara) or a black nightshade (probably solanum americanum), hard to say without seeing the leaves, flowers, or ripe berries.


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