Tomato hornworm like this should not be killed

Posted on: July 29, 2019 | Written By: Doug Oster | Comments

A tomato hornworm can defoliate a plant in a few days and will even munch on the tomatoes themselves. To me, they are one of the coolest looking pests in the garden; to others … not so much.

Tomato hornworms are just one of the things gardeners battle on the way to harvesting fresh garden tomatoes. Never kill one that has these rice like cocoons on the worm.

Tomato hornworms are just one of the things gardeners battle on the way to harvesting fresh garden tomatoes. Photos by Doug Oster

They can be hard to find. Usually gardeners will notice missing foliage and the droppings of the caterpillar. It won’t be far from either place, but the pest is brilliantly camouflaged. They can be picked off easily by hand. I used to put them in a jar with air holes in the lid along with some more foliage and send them into school.

If one is found with rice like cocoons on the worm, don’t kill it. These are parasitic wasps that will feed on the hornworm. By the time the cocoons have appeared, the work is probably done feeding or will be soon.

Never kill one that has these rice like cocoons on the worm.

Never kill a tomato hornworm that has these rice like cocoons on the worm.

By leaving the caterpillar alone, it will perpetuate the parasitic wasps, which will help control the pest year after year. Good bugs eating the bad bugs is a good thing about being an organic gardener.

Doug Oster is editor of Everybody Gardens, a website operated by 535Media, LLC. Reach him at 412-965-3278 or doster@535mediallc.com. See other stories, videos, blogs, tips and more at everybodygardens.com.

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Doug Oster is manager and editor of Everybody Gardens with a passion for gardening and a love of sharing is experiences with other gardeners. You will also find Doug’s gardening contributions in the Tribune-Review each week. He’s an Emmy Award winning producer, television host and writer. Oster is co-host of The Organic Gardeners Radio show every Sunday morning at 7 a.m. on KDKA radio in Pittsburgh. Oster’s Outstanding Documentary Emmy was awarded for Gardens of Pennsylvania, a one hour special he conceived and produced for the PBS affiliate WQED. Doug appears every Thursday morning on KDKA-TV’s Pittsburgh Today live at 9 a.m. “Gardening is fun, he says, enjoy every day spent outside tending vegetables, flowers, shrubs and trees.”