Sunday, July 15, 2012

Hornworm season

Ajay Nair
Department of Horticulture, Iowa State University

Past few weeks growers have been experiencing foliar damage in solanaceous crops, especially tomatoes and pepper. When observed closely one can spot large green colored caterpillars defoliating the plant. These caterpillars are commonly called hornworms and are fairly common this time of the season. It is extremely important to manage this pest immediately as these are voracious feeders and can defoliate the whole plant in a matter of few days (usually when more than 2 caterpillars present on one plant). The caterpillars blend in with the foliage and are not easy to detect and are often not observed until they cause considerable damage.
Hornworm camouflaged in the pepper plant
There are two kinds of hornworms, tomato and tobacco hornworm, although they are very similar in appearance and biology. The most striking feature of the hornworm is the presence of a "horn" located at the terminal end of their abdomen. This horn is usually "red" in color for the tobacco and "black" for the tomato hornworm. This is an easy way to identify them. There are on an average 2 generations of this pest in Iowa. The adult is a grayish white moth. Most of the damage is caused by the caterpillar and so it has to be controlled at that stage.

Tomato hornworm (notice the black horn) 

Adult tomato hornworm moth (picture courtesy Univ. of Florida) 

A number of synthetic and organic insecticide are available to manage this pest. Some of the common synthetic insecticides are  Asana XL, Sevin, Mustang, and Pounce. Within the synthetic group there are insecticides that have reduced impact on the environment, are less toxic to non-target organisms and humans, and have low pest resistance potential. Some of these reduced risk products include Intrepid, Entrust, Avaunt, and Coragen. Biopesticides have also shown excellent results in managing hornworms. A biological control organism that is highly effective and sold commonly is Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt). Some commercial Bt formulations include Dipel, Biobet, Javelin, and Thuricide. Please follow pesticide instructions accurately while handling the product. 

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