“Tomato Hornworm Fun” (By: Michele Babcock-Nice)
Manduca inquemaculata, or the tomato hornworm, is a large green caterpillar, the larvae of sphinx or hawk moths. Tomato hornworms eat the foliage of tomato or tobacco plants, and are sometimes confused with tobacco hornworms since they look very similar to each other.
During the summer of 2011, there were several tomato hornworms that fed on the foliage of our tomato plants in Georgia. We purposely did not put any form of insecticides or insect powders on the tomato plants, just so the tomato hornworms would have a nice feast. By the end of the summer, there were at least five tomato hornworms feasting on our tomato plants. I also had the pleasure of taking two of them for “Show and Tell” in my son’s second grade class at his school in August 2011, later releasing them back onto the garden tomato plants.
One evening, shortly after ceasing to see the tomato hornworm larvae anymore, and assuming they had pupated, I happened to witness a large female praying mantis feeding on a tomato hornworm sphinx moth that she had caught. She had adeptly caught the moth while it was feeding on the nectar of a flower, holding it with her “praying” front legs. When she had finished eating it, she left only the wings that settled on the ground.
Pictured above is a photo of my son with one of the tomato hornworm “pets” that we lovingly observed, cared for, and “adopted” during the summer of 2011. I had placed the caterpillar on his shirt, and it felt ticklish to him as it crawled upward on his clothing. We had great fun with our tomato hornworm caterpillars last summer!
Pictured above is a tomato hornworm moth from my own personal Lepidoptera collection. It is one that I caught near Statesville, North Carolina in the summer of 2005. It is impressive and beautiful with it’s vivid coloring and bright orange body spots.