Hornworms go by many names. Often referred to as Hawk Moths, Sphingidae, and even sphinx moths these peculiar creatures are like no other insect.
Like some caterpillars turn into moths and butterflies, Hornworm caterpillars turn into sphinx or hawk moths. Yes, despite their name, they’re actually not worms at all.
These astounding moths are often mistaken for hummingbirds due to their great size and ability to fly, and don’t be scared; they’re absolutely harmless to humans and are dazzling to look at.
Due to the constant comparison to butterflies, moths are often discredited for their beauty too.
Like butterflies, moths play a necessary part in the pollination process and serve as nourishment for bats and birds; an important part of the ecosystem.
How To Identify Hornworms
Hornworms have multiple classifications, The Hummingbird Hawk-Moth, The Five-Spotted Hawk Moth, The Elephant Hawk-Moth, and The Tobacco Hornworm are some of the species of Hornworms.
Tobacco Hornworms initially start out as small larva then transition to medium and then large larva.
A large larva can weigh up to 10 grams and in 5 days can turn into a pupa.
The large larva is green and looks like an average caterpillar but can easily be disguised amongst leaves.
Once the larva turns into a pupa, and then ultimately the fully grown adult; the Hornworm is now able to fly and appears to be in a brown shape.
Many people misconceive them as birds. The adult Hornworm is usually brown and wears brown and white spots.
Most Hornworms have stripes on their body and a rather beautiful pattern on their wings.
Hornworms in the larva stage are seen hanging in plants, when disturbed they can make snapping and clicking sounds locating their trespasser.
Where To Find These Green Beasts
Region-wise, Hornworms can be found in areas of North America.
They leave quite a mark behind; you can even find them from Northern Mexico to the Southernmost region of Canada.
If you’re (un)lucky you might even find them feasting on your kitchen gardens plants like tomatoes, potatoes, peppers and eggplants.
And when in stress, they too like your average smoker; feast on tobacco plants. It may be hard to spot them due to their magnificent camouflaging skills.
Due to their texture and color they can easily pass as leaves or plant stems; and you’d never have a clue! That is until you find little nibbles in your fresh veggies the other day.
Hornworms tend to hide beneath leaves and along interior stems during the day, becoming active during the cooler evening hours.
They start out small looking like innocent green worms but can truly ruin your kitchen garden.
What is a Horn Worm’s Life Cycle?
These beautiful beasts can live up to 30-50 days, but don’t worry they aren’t reaching the brink of extinction any time soon.
Their eggs hatch two to four days after being laid!
Hornworms; A Nuisance To Farmers
Two most famous types of Hornworms are the ones associated with tomatoes and plants.
These two are called the ‘Tomato Hornworm’ (as it feeds on tomatoes) and the ‘Tobacco Hornworm’. Both species are pests.
The difference between the two is that the tobacco Hornworm caterpillar has black lines with white stripes, along with red horns.
However, the tomato Hornworm has green lines with white stripes and a blue horn.
These green monsters can destroy a plant overnight and start ruining the fruit too.
Even though they are not dangerous to humans, they seem very threatening according to their looks.
The large adult moths may even come off as pretty but the same most definitely cannot be said about the larvae.
Tobacco is a highly profitable crop and serves as a means of income for many; for both large and small-scale farmers.
Tobacco however is extremely expensive to grow.
The costly price of the tobacco crop paired with it being the Tobacco Hornworms favorite treat not only ruins farmers’ efforts and investments but also destroys their means of income.
How To Get Rid Of Hornworms
In order to get rid of a Hornworm infestation, pesticides can be used, but often they are more dangerous to insects that are beneficial to the garden.
Pesticides don’t come cheap either, and paid with the already expensive tobacco plant; can increase the cost of production for an average farmer.
The lifespan of a Hornworm is usually 2-3 weeks, but even half of this time is good enough for causing mass destruction and infestation of plants.
However, it takes weeks for a Hornworm to get to the stage of actually becoming an adult.
Hornworms don’t move around much, they spend their life on the same plant that they hatched, so it is better to take proactive measures to avoid an infestation before one actually happens.
With the help of a good eye and some patience, you can hunt down Hornworms in your plants.
Once they are removed from their host (in this case talking about the plant they live in) they quickly die.
If you own reptiles, you can actually feed the Hornworm to your pet, acting as a great source of nutrients to your animal.
In fact, Hornworms can be bred in laboratories and are fed to exotic insectivores; even fish can eat them.
They are preferred to be eaten by reptiles rather than the wild ones. Wild Hornworms may have poisonous substances for the animal it is being fed to.
From a more natural perspective, Braconid wasps, Lacewings and Ladybugs can destroy the population of Hornworms.
In a way these animals do us a favor.
Over-population of such an insect could lead to complete destruction of crops not only causing food shortages in humans but ruin the ecosystem as well.
A strangely bizarre insect, Hornworms may be a nuisance to farmers but it surely does not mean they do not have a place in the ecosystem.
They are extremely beautiful up close. Unlike other animals which find nicotine poisonous, Tobacco Hornworms can eat entire plants of tobacco.
So next time you see one of these beautiful moths, don’t be frightened due to its size, but instead embrace its utterly beautiful designs and patterns.