The very hungry reclassified caterpillar

Not, in fact, a tomato hornworm.

tomato hornworm caterpillars

Last week I posted about the voracious caterpillars that decimated one of my tomato plants. I theorized, based on as close an identification as I could make, that it was a tomato hornworm, Manduca quinquemaculata.

Made sense. Fat, green guys with white stripes and brown spots? Check. Horns on their rear ends? Check. Munching on tomatoes? Check. My guys’ stripes weren’t as fat as the ones in the photo from the University of Minnesota Extension publication, but perhaps I had juveniles? Maybe after eating my entire plant, the stripes would grow as bloated as the rest of their bodies.

Not so fast. Enter iNaturalist, a fabulous nature-identification app that I’m in love with. Created as a joint project between the California Academy of Sciences and the National Geographic Society, it allows citizens to upload their observations and get critter identifications from other members. The data are shared with databases like the Global Biodiversity Information Facility, so you can feel good about contributing to biodiversity science.

Everyone on the app piled on to correct me. I don’t have tomato hornworms, although my mistake is a common one. I have tobacco hornworms, Manduca sexta. This link shows the differences very clearly. Tomato hornworms have V-shaped stripes and bluish- or black horns on their rear ends. Tobacco hornworms have white diagonal stripes bordered in black, and have red horns on their butts.

White stripes, red horns. Clearly, tobacco hornworms.

Treatment is the same: pick ’em off and feed them to hungry birds. I’m happy to report the sad, naked tomato stalk grew a few new leaves this week, so maybe it will pull through.

Here at MHM, we believe in science, so I wanted to correct the record. 🙂