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Tobacco Hornworm Moth (Manduca sexta)


Detailing the physical features, habits, territorial reach and other identifying qualities of the Tobacco Hornworm Moth



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The Tobacco Hornworm is a caterpillar with a destructive plant-based diet that includes far more than the tobacco plant.



Updated: 09/08/2019; Authored By Staff Writer; Content ©www.InsectIdentification.org
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 on both sides, each ending with an eyespot. While these caterpillars do 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.

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 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 wasps as food for their young. Female wasps lay white eggs that look like 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.

Adult moths 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 brown-gray 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.




General Characteristics
Capability, Shape, Texture/Pattern, Benefits, Dangers
Flying insect icon
Garden pest insect icon
Harmful insect icon
Pest insect icon




Taxonomic Hierarchy
Species Breakdown
Kingdom: Animalia
  Phylum: Arthropoda
    Class: Insecta
      Order: Lepidoptera
        Family: Sphingidae
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          Genus: Manduca
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            Species: sexta
Identifying Information
Size, Colors, Features
Scientific Name: Manduca sexta
Other Name(s): Tobacco Fly, Carolina Sphinx Moth, Six-Spotted Sphinx Moth
Category: Butterfly or Moth
Size (Adult; Length): 90mm to 115mm (3.54" to 4.52")
Colorwheel Graphic Colors: black; gray; brown; white
Descriptors: flying, harmful, garden pest

Tobacco-Hornworm-Moth Video(s)




A Tobacco Hornworm eating away a leaf on a tomato plant.
The 'horn' on the Tobacco Hornworm's rear end.
Parasitic wasp eggs inundating a Tobacco Hornworm.
Relative Size Comparison
Typical Range Between 90mm and 115mm
Lo: 90mm
Md: 102.5mm
Hi: 115mm
Territorial Map*
U.S., Canada, and Mexico
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Alaska  
Hawaii  
Prince Edward Is.  
* MAP NOTES: The territorial heat map above showcases (in red) the states and territories of North America where the Tobacco Hornworm Moth may be found (but is not limited to). This sort of data is useful when attempting to see concentrations of particular species across the continent as well as revealing possible migratory patterns over a species' given lifespan. Some insects are naturally confined by environment, weather, mating habits, food resources and the like while others see widespread expansion across most, or all, of North America. States/Territories shown above are a general indicator of areas inhabited by the Tobacco Hornworm Moth. Insects generally go where they please, typically driven by diet, environmental changes, and / or mating habits.

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