Posted by: lisaracz | September 28, 2010

From hungry tomato horn caterpillar to wings of fancy- Humane pest control


This summer I found myself being introduced to the tomato horn caterpillar as I noticed a few leaves that have been chewed upon or were entirely missing on my tomato plants.  I moved a few leaves around and there it was. Bright green with soft yellow stripes and a bright red horn or hook at its end. 

Most people consider this little munching visitor a pest and proceed in killing the poor thing without any further thought of how to really deter it from our gardens humanly or a bout the beautiful winged flyer it becomes in just a few months, if given a chance. I found this one in my back yard pumping up her wings in the Sun on my outside patio curtain swag.

I know. Why on earth would anyone want to protect this species? For one, the caterpillar is pretty cool looking and reminds me of the caterpillar in the movie Alice In Wonderland. Another reason is when the caterpillars  get the chance to hibernate as a pupa in the ground during the winter months, they eventually emerge at different times during the summer months as the Five-Spotted Hawkmoth and then pollinate only nectar giving flowers. They pollinate just as the Hummingbird does and even resembles and moves as a hummingbird does.  When seen, the Hawkmoth is often mistaken for the Hummingbird.

Hawkmoth in the early morning that emerged during the night.

Hawkmoth in the early morning that emerged during the night.



From tomato caterpillar to Hawkmoth

Though, this caterpillar is cool looking and becomes one of the larger species of moths, about the size of your thumb, they can be destructive to gardens. 

Here are a couple of examples of humane pest control tricks that actually work to control these guys and keep them at bay from all of our gardens. 

Plant Examination –First plants should be examined each week during the summer to check for tomato horn worms.  

Marigold Flowers -They can be reduced by planting marigold flowers around your gardens. The marigold has been used throughout Europe in gardens as a pest control, because it works.

Stock Photo - orange marigold  flower. fotosearch  - search stock  photos, pictures,  wall murals, images,  and photo clipart

Cold Water –What I have found that works is spraying your tomatoes plants with rather cold water. The tomato Caterpillar thinks that winter is coming and will go underground to hibernate as a pupa.  The cold water also stuns the caterpillars and they are too cold to eat. You will need to do this a few times, but it works as I have found out by mistake. A good mistake.

Planting Boxes and Dummy Tomato Plants –You can also get a planting box and plant what I call dummy tomato plants.   Handpick  the caterpillars from your actual garden (they wont heart you)and place them on the tomatoes in the planting box. They will concentrate on those tomato plants and not your garden before going into winters sleep.  This gives a few the chance to live to become the nectar slurping, pollinators that we know as the Hawkmoth. 

Handpicking –  The most effective form of garden management is handpicking. Physically removing and relocating the caterpillar. 

Discourage Egg Laying – Keep your gardens clear of weeds and crabgrass to discourage egg laying on other plant hosts and don’t keep previously  infected tomato plants in garden. Get rid of them and obtain new plants next year. 

View Image 

Till Your Garden – At the end of Summer when your tomato harvest is done, till the soil to disturb the burrowing caterpillars and pupae. 

The cycle of life is not disturbed and we’re not causing another species to become extinct before we fully know all that is to be know about the Five-Spotted Hawkmoth. All that is really known that has been briefly studied about the species is that when it is in the form of the tomato Caterpillar, it eats non stop and when it becomes the Hawkmoth, it pollinates.  

For more detailed information on the tomato Caterpillar or horn worm visit AgriLife Extension at or  Texas A & M University department of horticultural sciences/Integrated Pest management  at 

“What is the harm of saving a few species to gain knowledge, understanding and give compassion to what is not fully understood by us? Nothing.” 

With much sincerity, 

Lisa Racz 

Lisa Racz – For the Earth and all it gives life to. 

Environment Writer – Arizona


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