If you have ever grown tomatoes, then you’ve seen your leaves eaten to the stalk and large grains of soil on the leaves directly beneath the consumed leaves. But I bet you’ve had a hard time finding the offenders, even though they can grow to three inches long.
It’s the tomato hornworm. They are amazing at blending into tomato foliage through their natural coloring, but they also have a habit of snoozing under leaves in the middle of the day, so they’re very difficult to spot.
The best time to find them is when the light is waning, and the most effective “treatment” in my opinion is to pluck them off the tomato plant. We feed them to the chickens, but I’ve also put them in the middle of the street for birds (crows in my neighborhood). Be careful when you pick them up – they bite. If you ever get the chance to watch one eat, you’ll notice that they take large chunks of leaf at one time.
And they’re not called “horn” worms for nothing. Each of these large caterpillars has a red horn on its butt that’s intimidating, but benign – it’s the front end you have to watch.
All grown up, the tomato hornworm becomes a sphinx moth, aka hummingbird moth – so-called because of its unique ability to hover like a hummingbird while feeding on nectar. They’re a sight often missed, but not often forgotten.
More info on the life cycle of the tomato hornworm here.