Insect Identification
Insect Identification

Tobacco Hornworm Moth - (Manduca sexta)

Authored By Staff Writer | Last Updated: 1/26/2016

Tobacco Hornworm Moth has a destructive plant-based diet that goes beyond the tobacco plant.

The name of the Tobacco Hornworm Moth partially stems from its caterpillar form. The green bodied, chubby, hairless caterpillar has a reddish-brown horn-like projection at the end of it. It also has black and white diagonal stripes running diagonally from its back down the sides, each ending with an eyespot. While these caterpillars eat tobacco plants, they also attack the foliage of potato and tomato plants. They are considered huge pests in agricultural and backyard garden communities. They have voracious appetites and can lay waste to healthy tomato plants in just a few days, devouring leaves and stems with ease. Watch how quickly one caterpillar can consume plant tissue here:

The head of the caterpillar is rounded with the mouth underneath. It does not need to make large, sweeping movements in order to chew down a leaf. The tail end of the caterpillar, by contrast, is quite active, frequently dabbing stems and branches, often leaving deposits of green feces. This behavior may trick predators into believing that it is the head. Losing a bit of flesh on the back end might not mean imminent death for the caterpillar. The spiky projection on that end may aid in thwarting attacks by a bird or small mammal.

Tobacco Hornworms, as the caterpillars are called, resemble Tomato Hornworms. Both caterpillars are hairless and green with plump bodies and have spiky 'horns' at their rear. The Tobacco Hornworm, however, has seven white diagonal stripes while the Tomato Hornworm has eight white V-shaped stripes. The caterpillars are often used by certain species of wasp to feed young. Female wasps lay white eggs, which resemble large grains of rice, on the backs of the helpless caterpillar. These eggs hold wasp pupae that will feed on the living caterpillar, slowly killing it as they grow and develop. See what a Tobacco Hornworm looks like when heavily infested by clicking here:

Adults are called 'tobacco flies' even though they are moths. They are most active from midsummer to late autumn. Adults drink the nectar from honeysuckle and petunia flowers. The Tobacco Hornworm Moth has six pairs of yellow (or orange) spots on of its furry abdomen. The wings are hairy and mostly mottled patches of brown and black save for a bit a yellow on the forewings.

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Category: Butterfly or Moth
Common name: Tobacco Hornworm Moth
Scientific Name: Manduca sexta
Other Names: Tobacco Fly, Carolina Sphinx Moth, Six-Spotted Sphinx Moth

  Kingdom: Animalia
   Phylum: Arthropoda
    Class: Insecta
     Order: Lepidoptera
      Family: Sphingidae
       Genus: Manduca
        Species: sexta

Adult Size (Length): 90mm to 115mm (3.54in to 4.53in)

Identifying Colors: black; gray; brown; white

Additional Descriptors: flying, harmful

North American Reach (Though Not Limited To*): Alabama; Arkansas; California; Delaware; Florida; Georgia; Illinois; Indiana; Iowa; Kansas; Kentucky; Louisiana; Maryland; Massachusetts; Michigan; Minnesota; Mississippi; Missouri; North Carolina; Ohio; Pennsylvania; South Carolina; Tennessee; Texas; Virginia; West Virginia; Wisconsin; Mexico

* Keep in mind that insect reach is not governed by lines on a map and therefore may appear in areas/regions/states beyond those listed above.