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It’s Huge, It’s Scary and It Wants Your Tomatoes!

tomatoes istock 300x225 Its Huge, Its Scary and It Wants Your Tomatoes! picOnce you’ve tasted fresh, home-grown tomatoes, you’ll scoff at the anemic, mass-produced ones available at grocery stores. Growing tomato plants is rewarding, but you may run into a few challenges. If the leaves and unripened tomatoes develop holes or disappear overnight, or you find dark green droppings around the base of your plant, it’s time to inspect it for one of the tomato grower’s greatest enemies.

Identifying the Tomato Hornworm

The tomato hornworm is a large, green caterpillar with a curled head and a sharp-looking red horn on its rear. A mature hornworm is between three and five inches long and its markings include white stripes and rows of false eyes on both sides. At first glance, it resembles a ghastly little alien and many new tomato growers are quite startled the first time they spot one. A closer inspection reveals that the little fellow is harmless. Its size is intimidating, but it’s soft, squishy and slow-moving. It can’t bite you and the scary looking false horn isn’t even capable of scratching your skin.

The shape of its head and its green color make it easy for the hornworm to hide itself among the tomato leaves. You can be looking right at the pest and not see it. These bugs have voracious appetites and tomato plants are their primary target. If you’re more interested in entomology than produce, you can wait around to see the hornworms form cocoons and emerge as giant hawk moths. However, if you want to save your tomatoes, take action quickly. If you have more than a few hornworms, they can defoliate your tomato plants at record speed.

How to Manage Tomato Hornworms

One or two hornworms are no cause for alarm. You can simply pick them off by hand and relocate them. If you happen to find a hornworm with multiple white projections on its back, leave it alone; it’s a goner. This worm has been targeted by its worst enemy, the parasitic wasp. Those projections are eggs and once they hatch, you’ll have an army of harmless wasps to defend your landscaping. Another natural remedy for hornworms is a spray containing bacillus thuringiensis. For severe infestations, chemical insecticides are most effective.

If you discovered the problem too late and there’s nothing left on your plant but a bunch of fat, happy worms, there’s a way to get revenge. Harvest them. Interestingly, hornworms are actually edible (though we don’t recommend it). But it’s probably safe to assume they taste like green tomatoes!

Don’t Let Them Win

Pests in your garden are one thing and there are a variety of sources of information on garden pests (Hello Texas A&M Ag info http://agrilifeextension.tamu.edu/extresources/resources/), but give ABC a call when pests inside are intruding on your INDOOR environment! Give us a call today to schedule a professional inspection if you think you have a problem.

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