Skip to Content

Tobacco Hornworm (Manduca sexta)

The tobacco hornworm is a voracious eater that can do a great deal of damage in a flower or vegetable garden.The tobacco hornworm is huge and a voracious eater

I decided to prune the dead flowers from my Buddleia (Butterfly Bush) the other day.  It is attracting butterflies like crazy, but most of the flowers were long dead.  I thought pruning it would give it a chance to form new flowers before fall and attract even more butterflies.

As I started pruning I noticed that many of the stems were completely clean of leaves.  I didn’t think much about it at first but just pruned behind the bar stems and moved on.

Tobacco Hornworm – (Manduca sexta) is a huge critter

But, lo and behold, it did not take me long to discover just WHY my stems were so bare.  The bush was playing host to a huge Tobacco hornworm caterpillar.  He was just as happy as anything in his all you can eat buffet.

Tobacco hornworm caterpillar You cannot tell from the photo, but this caterpillar was at least 4 inches long and the diameter of a good sized man’s middle finger. 

In spite of the common name of the caterpillar –  Tobacco hornworm, they are often found on many other plants including tomato plants, as well as horse-nettles, nightshades, and other members of the tomato/potato family.  (and as it turned out for me – my Butterfly bush!)

The Tobacco hornworm is closely related to another large caterpillar:  The Tomato hornworm.  Both are often kept as pets by children because of their sizes. This variety of hornworm is distinguished by seven diagonal stripes on its sides. Tomato hornworms have eight of the lines in V shaped markings.

The tobacco hornworm is quite commonly seen in the southern United States, especially the Gulf Coast States. Its range extends northward as far as New York.

The caterpillars can measure 45-60 mm in length and the adult moths, as expected can have a wing span of about 100 mm.

adult tobacco hormworn mothImage courtesy of Featured Creatures

Share on Social Media

Bostjan Dvorak

Monday 4th of June 2018

Very nice pictures, thx for sharing. The latter one is a rather rare migrating species, Manduca rustica, not a synanthropic one, and not eating any of the crops; You found it on a Buddleia.


Wednesday 5th of July 2017

How or what can be done to avoid/deter/kill them?


Wednesday 5th of July 2017

Hi Sherry

The deter them from coming into the garden till soil at the beginning and end of each gardening season so that the overwintering larvae are destroyed. If you have them and the infestation is large, insecticides will work if you don't mind chemicals. If there are just a few, remove them by hand. Carol

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are "affiliate links." This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive a small commission from the sale, but the price is the same for you. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."