Chomp! Chomp! Green Hornworms Destroy Tomato Plants. (Pictures)

Hornworm Destroying My Tomatoes

I think I’ve been cursed. There is a tribe in the Sudan that believes much of what happens in life is due to witches. These witches either knowingly or unknowingly curse people. I think that this explanation is just as good as any other for what recently happened.

The desert is a harsh climate and can sometimes present challenges that many other gardeners will never have to face. In return for putting up with endless heat and dry conditions, desert gardeners don’t have as many issues with bacteria and mold.  I also thought that there were a few pests that we were safe from. One of which is the tomato hornworm.  Boy was I wrong! For anyone who has ever had the pleasure of encountering these guys, you are aware of just how destructive they can be.

I went out for a quick water around 7am on Wednesday at which time everything was normal. I went back outside at 7pm to water again (remember we don’t really have a problem with mold so watering at night isn’t an issue) only to find fat, green monsters had ravage my tomato plants. Somewhere in a matter of 12 hours the eggs had hatched and these creepy little things ate literally half my tomato plants. I was flabbergasted considering this was one of the hottest days of the year at 112 degrees.

Taken by GardenMandy 2008, July

The tomato hornworm is actually a large caterpillar that can reach up to 4 inches long. They eventually turn into the hummingbird moth. They are not only ugly but also quite mean. We proceeded to pull them off but it wasn’t an easy task. They hold on tight and are ready to fight you every bit of the way. While they do look creepy, with fake eyes along their body, horn and of course the green slime they ooze most of these features are just to deter predators.

If you are unlucky enough to find yourself a victim of these creatures of mass destruction, grab a pair of pliers and gloves and get to work immediately pulling them off. They work really fast so you don’t want to delay. If you can’t bring yourself to pulling them off, pick up some BT (Bacillus thuringiensis) spray. Try to check you tomatoes often over the following days to be sure another egg hasn’t hatched.

I hope that you never have to deal with the problem of tomato horn worms. They are unbelievably destructive and just downright creepy.

Taken in my garden, by GardenMandy July 2008

Luckily I think I caught them in time and my tomatoes will survive.
Good luck and happy gardening.


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93 thoughts on “Chomp! Chomp! Green Hornworms Destroy Tomato Plants. (Pictures)

  1. One year my garden was loaded with these things and little tiny worms, I spend all summer checking my plants every morning and killing the worms often picking off the leaf. This year I have only had a couple so I think the trick is to get rid of them before they lay their eggs.

  2. You take a empty water bottle & bury it in the soil, almost to the top..drop the worm inside the bottle (with out the cap)The other worms can hear it trying to crawl out .They wont get on your tomatoes.I do this when ever I see the mean ole worms..Try it its works..

  3. I have a 2nd floor balcony garden of potted tomato and pepper plants and some herbs. Yesterday, I noticed that the 4 or 5 peppers I had were gone–there were remnants of two of them that had clearly been chewed on. I found a huge greenie on a stem of one of the plants. I had to pull really hard to get it off with a wooden pliers type instrument, and threw it over the balcony. I was amazed wondering it how it got there. I guess I will keep checking my tomato plants for signs of any others. It was a bummer about the peppers, which were mostly ready to pick, and now I have none!

  4. I have never been so grossed out in my life… I thought a storm that went thru here a couple of days ago had striped off the leaves like tornadoes do with trees.. but nooooo in less that 24 hours at least 5 of these things did that damage… and they fought with me when I tried to pull them off!!! I put them in a frozen dinner box and them proceeded to jump up and down on them to vent my anger… but they got the last laugh when green snot came shooting out of both ends of the box… sigh

  5. Sorry about your plant, as far as saving it, if it has anything left to the plant at all, it may come back, keep watering it and the tomatoe food is ok to, being the almost end of the season you may or may not get it to produce more tomato’s???
    why don’t you try and buy another plant, I know Lowes here in NJ still has some left.
    Good Luck!

  6. Ok so I found two of these beasts and they literally ate my whole plant over night!!! even the tomatoes!!! its SO SAD this plant is one of my children!!! the sweet one!!!

    ok so now what do I do… it has literally NO leaves on it… i have been giving it tomatoe food every night hoping that would maybe make it grow some new leaves now and checking it like every hour so no new monsters get on it..

    my questions are…

    is my baby saveable…

    can I hurt it by giving it too much miracle grow tomato plant food????

    what else can I do to bring my baby back to life…

    this literally is my first plant and my only… please help… i will be totally devastated if Its lost for good… :O(

  7. What I’m wondering is I don’t have a garden just a large planter with store bought soil and nobody in the neighborhood has a garden. I suppose his larvae could have come with the soil or the plants I bought. (2)

    I check my cherry plants daily and water and noticed the tops gone within 8 hours but the bug is 2.5 inches long. They seem to like to start at the top. Note: Also don’t let your tomato plants produce too much green leaves. Yes leave some for for the plant but you’re also watering the leaves that suck up the water and the nutrients.

    A good way to attend to this is clip off the point leaves and most of the lower leaves and shoots. I clip them off with my thumb and fore finger. As the plant progresses I continue to trim more from the bottom up but I do clip the tops where new blooms appear, clipping the point leaf.

    Though I’ve not done it., you can clip a healthy shoot and produce new plants for fall tomatoes. Or if in the south you can start new plants from seeds but I’d try grape tomatoes.

    Don’t forget!!! A half cup or so of epsom salts per plant when planting and IF YOU FORGOT? add some to the top soil NOW!!! or once a month THATS WHAT MAKES EM SWEET !

    BTW I used to grow a lot of tomatoes and I just put two plants in with the dirt and the 16 tomatoes (so far) still green I’m figuring about those against $6 invested (not including the pot I already owned !!!) LOL

    If I was going to do it again large scale, I’d go vine tomatoes again from a florida species as they produce more. And set it up on a larger furrowed rows with poles and rope or wire to climb on.

  8. I just pulled 14 of these fatsos off my plants, they ate half the leaves off 2 out of 3 tomato plants and i am wondering if my plants will recover. I stepped on one and it was indeed messy as i had to wash my leg off, so i resorted to a small board with nails to squish them with. I am also wondering if its too late for pesticide since over half of them were 2 inches long at least already… sigh. I was so hoping to get alot of tomatoes this year since the local tomato cart owners tomatoes smell like he fertilizes his plants with chicken poo. :/

  9. the eggs are laid by the hummingbird moth not the hummingbird. It is a nasty creature that is for sure. I don’t think I lie the moth either.

  10. I am more curious how they can find the plants. Wonder if the eggs are laid on the plants by Hummingbirds??

  11. It is not a video, I took still pics. Where would you like them posted or sent?

  12. I picked 10 of these off of one of my tomato plants this morning–they devestated the top 18 inches of a 4 foot tall plant overnight–green poop everywhere. I added the10 of them to my composter–maybe there is something in there they will like–maybe not. I missed one, but a wasp did not miss him. I saw some comotion low in the plant and a wasp was hanging upside down holding one of them and slowly drinking his juices dry…left a wrinked shell of the caterpillar in a heap when he was done. I have some very cool close-up pics of the wasp drinking the caterpillar juices.

  13. Bonnie, sorry for your loss “-) they come from the humming bird moth i’ve been told but as far as what to look 4?? don’t know, one minute your palnts are fine, the next half or whole eaten, just check your plants several times a day, I do and only had the problem once so far but my neighbor has had them 3 times in the last 5 years.

  14. I live in Florida in zone 9. I have been growing my tomatoes in coconut fiber/Perlite with great success. I have had aphids on the radishes with great disgust and yesterday found the Hornworm on the tomatoes. I’m up to 4 or 5 now. Just going to watch for them maybe 3 or 4 times a day. Evenings is when I found mine. What I want to know and everyone has asked “where do they come from?” I want to know is what do they look like before they hatch…what am I looking for? I keep looking for maybe a cocoon of some sort.

  15. We met the green horned worms yesterday for the first time and it was an interisting event. My wife called to tell me about these green worms that were eating our tomato plants . She said that she could see the leaves being eaten as she was talking to me on the phone. We sprayed with BT and then came to this web site only to discover that the war wasn’t over.I found a coffee can and a sharp knife. We began our attack After an hour or so of removing the worms we couldn’t find anymore. I just got back from checking the plants(it’s the morning after now) and it looks like we might make it.Don’t be gentle with these worms are they will distroy all of the ent plants. KILL-UM quick fast and in a hurry!!! KILL-UM DEAD

  16. In deed the worms are tremendously gross. Not into massacre stuff, think I will try the bird feeder and pesticides. Thank you all for your info.

  17. Everyone needs back yard chickens. My Daughter has three and there isn’t a bug to be found. She has mantis’ in her house and will have to buy crickets to feed them, and as a bonus for her she get 2 eggs a day and soon will be three one is a slow layer. She got them in the spring.

    Colleen .
    Grand Junction C.O.

  18. I just discovered some of the varmits on my tomato plants. I just picked them off and layed them on my cement patio where they were quickly snatched up by a pair of jays. Since then, I’ve noticed the jays hanging around more often. Bless their souls


  19. My green guys are gone but did find a black widow in my clog and my son found a big one in my corn. Be sure you check your shoes if you leave them outside. I am enjoying the praying mantis’ now they are so interesting and love to be fed.
    Fall is in the air and preparing the bounties of the summer garden for winter use. Unfourtently I lost the corn as I was gone when it was ready to pick so sad but will be different next year as I learned a lot this year in Grand Junction about gardening.
    Happy canning


  20. 9/10/10 Found one on my porch tomato plant. My grand daughters Jess and Lindsay were freaked out!
    Even my daughter was almost climbing the wall. This thing is UGLY! pretty green, but UGLY!!!
    Phyllis New York

  21. they destory our veggies, thats why they derserve to be tortured, I don’t care if they are just a catapiller, the destruction they cause after nurturing our plants all spring into summer just to have these horred little buggers ruin everything is well worth killing them by nay mean possible…I enjoy squishing them too!!!!! so too bad for you bug lovers :0

  22. yeah so they can do some damage, this forum seems to be a good ‘support group’ for anyone dealing with these little guys, but seriously people, chill out, they are just caterpillars, what’s with all the sadistic torture and hatred for simple nature here? give ‘em a flush if you have to but torture? get a life.

  23. oh, and a friend also just told me that dropping them in soapy water will also kill them

  24. I hate these guys!! I just discovered them this morning–killed 4 little guys and 3 huge ones. I just cut off the leave they were currently dining on. I immediately ran out and bought the BT. Pray for my 4 roma and cherry tomato plants, plus my 2 banana peppers, jalapenos, bell peppers, and pimento peppers….. I hope this stuff works.. Oh, and for anybody who decides that pounding them to death with a rock, while a great way to release some of your anger at them…can also be very…umm….messy. happy gardening :-D

  25. who knows why they are here, just check your plants daily & often as I do, have not got any this summer but am always looking to make sure, the damge these ugly suckers cause it sickning, they deserve the death penilty upon capture by whatever means neccasarry…lol but beware they bit and are goooy…YUK! :-)

  26. Thanks for the info. I am sick over losing all the leave from my beefsteak tomato plant!!! My children busily tortured them with pliers while we figured out what to do!! Will the leaves come back? With no leaves there won’t be much sun absorption, correct? Green ooze, green sh*t. Ravenous teeth. They bite too!! Nightmarish little creatures. Why are they here?!

  27. On how to get rid of them – birds absolutely love them!!! take a piece of scrap wood – nail the horned tomato caterpillar with a finishing nail and lay outside at a place where birds can see them. watch as the birds come by and start feasting on them. I know this is a little barbaric, but I rather let something feed off these caterpillars than go to complete waste

  28. Holy Cow! I’ve never even heard of these DAMNED worms! I have a couple of Heirloom Cherry tomato plants that I have been nurturing all spring and summer. They are about six feet tall! loaded with green tomatos. Well, the other day I noticed a few leaf tips had been chewed off by what I thought was maybe a deer. athat same evening I checked my tomatos and to my utter horror, about half of them were reduced to stems! Then I noticed the green droppings on my planter box. After a close examination, I discovered a Huge green caterpillar! Then another and another! I pulled off those ugly bugs (boy they do put up a fight!) and put them in a plastic bag to show some friends. After the “show and tell” I tried to decide what punishment to give them bugs. Well, unfortunately for them they got sprayed with Easy-Off oven cleaner…ha…ha…ha…they just desolved into a pile of green sludge! That’ll teach them to eat MY tomatos! darrell

  29. the tomatoe worm comes from the hummingbird moth.They are ugly and hungary. I get them off the plant and get rid of them. I have had four so far and got them in time.
    Good luck all you master gardners. The wind just took all my corn and knocked it all over. If it isn’t one thing it is another.
    Happy fire cracker day. God bless America

  30. I HATE these creatures…good question, where do they come from.?? idea but check your plants several times a day if you can??? arrrrgggg stupid worms!

  31. I have pulled 8 of these green worms allready and my tomatoes look like sticks rather then the big plush plant they were. These worms are so healthy and do so much distruction before you even realize it. They also attacked the pepper plants I had right next to the Tomatoes. My peppers were about 24 inches tall and full of leaves now they have no tops almost a foot down. I am sick over this.

  32. i have the same problem-1 day and half the plant gone and they shit allover–where do they come from-i live on a 2nd floor balcony

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