Tomato hornworm (Manduca quinquemaculata) is a moth pest of solanaceous crops, including tomato, eggplant, and pepper. It is closely related to tobacco hornworm (Manduca sexta). The easiest way to differentiate the two species as larvae is to check the color of the “horn” at the end of the caterpillar’s body. M. sexta has red horns, M. quinquemaculata has black.
Larvae can do quite a bit of damage to plants, feeding on leaves and sometimes fruit. To scout for larvae, look for their frass (droppings) and for defoliated areas. Larvae typically remain on the undersides of leaves while they feed and can be somewhat hard to spot.
Note that larvae glow under UV (“black”) light, so this can be used as an aid in finding the larvae on plants.
When scouting, keep an eye out for larvae parasitized by beneficial wasps. They will have small football-shaped pupae along their body. Don’t destroy parasitized larvae, to encourage further biological control.
I typically hand pick and destroy the larvae, but today I found enough (over a dozen) to try something I’ve been looking forward to. Fried tomato hornworm.
I used a recipe from BugWeek@UFL.
I enjoy fried green tomatoes, and found the hornworm enhanced version to be extra tasty. They are definitely worth eating again.