What Do Hornworms Turn Into? The Fascinating Truth

Hornworms are a common garden pest that can cause significant damage to tomato plants and other crops.

However, these creatures can also be a fascinating study in biology and ecology. One of the most interesting aspects of hornworms is their transformation from caterpillar to moth.

In this article, we will explore the life cycle of hornworms, including what they turn into, how they develop, and why they are important to the ecosystem.

We will also provide tips on how to manage hornworms in your garden and how to raise them as pets.

So, if you’ve ever wondered “What Do Hornworms Turn Into?” or are simply curious about these intriguing insects, read on to learn more.

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What Do Hornworms Turn Into?

What Do Hornworms Turn Into?

Hornworms, those plump and vibrant caterpillars you often encounter in gardens, undergo a remarkable transformation.

After their period as caterpillars, they eventually develop into beautiful and ethereal creatures called moths. That’s right – hornworms turn into moths!

Hornworms undergo a complete metamorphosis, just like their well-known counterparts, the butterflies.

How Does a Hornworm Turn Into a Moth?

The transformation of a hornworm into a moth is an intricate and fascinating process known as metamorphosis.

This captivating journey can be broken down into four distinct stages: egg, larva, pupation, and adult moth.

Let’s explore each of these stages in detail to understand the remarkable changes that occur during the transformation.

How Does a Hornworm Turn Into a Moth?

Egg

  • The journey of a hornworm begins as a tiny egg, carefully laid by a female hornworm moth on a suitable host plant.
  • These eggs are often deposited on the undersides of leaves, providing a safe and nourishing environment for the development of the future caterpillar.
  • It is within these eggs that the miracle of life begins, setting the stage for the hornworm’s transformation.

Larva

  • Once the eggs hatch, hornworms emerge as voracious caterpillars, often characterized by their vibrant green color and distinctive horn-like protrusion on their rear end.
  • This larval stage is the period of growth and feeding, where the caterpillars consume copious amounts of leaves from their host plants.
  • As they munch their way through the vegetation, they undergo multiple molts, shedding their old exoskeletons and revealing larger ones beneath.
hornworm timelapse going into pupa stage (toolowbrow)

Pupation

  • When the hornworm has reached full size, it begins to pupate, which means it creates a cocoon around itself and enters a state of dormancy.
  • Inside the cocoon, the hornworm undergoes some remarkable physical changes.
  • The pupal stage involves the breakdown and restructuring of the insect’s body, as its digestive system, muscles, and nervous system are restructured to allow for the rapid flight of a moth.

Adult Moth

  • As the pupal stage progresses, the outlines of the moth’s wings become more and more visible.
  • Eventually, the fully-formed moth breaks out of the cocoon and emerges into the world.
  • At first, the moth’s wings are small and wrinkled, but within a few hours, they expand and harden into their final shape.
  • The adult moth is now ready to mate and begin the cycle anew.
Life Cycle of a Hornworm (Buffie Turner)
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How Long Does It Take for a Hornworm to Turn Into a Moth?

The duration of the transformation process from a hornworm to a moth is not a fast one In fact, it can take several weeks (approximately 2 to 4 weeks) or even months for a hornworm to complete its transformation into a moth.

The length of time it takes for a hornworm to turn into a moth depends on several factors, including the species of the hornworm, the temperature and humidity of its environment, and the availability of food.

Generally, warmer temperatures tend to speed up the development process, while cooler temperatures slow it down.

For most species of hornworms, the larval stage lasts for a few weeks, during which time the hornworm does most of its eating and growing.

The pupal stage, during which the hornworm undergoes metamorphosis and turns into a moth, can take anywhere from a few weeks to several months, depending on the factors mentioned above.

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Do Hornworms Turn Into Butterflies?

No, hornworms do not turn into butterflies.

While both hornworms and butterflies are types of insects and undergo a process of metamorphosis, they belong to different groups.

Hornworms belong to the family Sphingidae, which includes sphinx moths or hawkmoths, while butterflies belong to the family Nymphalidae, Hesperiidae, Papilionidae, and others.

The transformation of hornworms leads them to become moths, not butterflies.

Do Hornworms Turn Into Hummingbird Moths?

It is a common misconception that tobacco hornworms turn into hummingbird moths. This is not entirely true.

In fact, both tomato hornworm caterpillars and tobacco hornworm caterpillars belong to the family Sphingidae, which includes many different species of moths.

However, not all Sphingidae moths are hummingbird moths.

The tobacco hornworm caterpillar, Manduca sexta, turns into a sphinx moth or hawk moth, not a hummingbird moth. These moths are often large and colorful, with wings that can span several inches.

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What Do Tomato Hornworms Turn Into?

These green caterpillars with distinctive horn-like protrusions on their rear end eventually turn into a specific type of moth known as sphinx moths, which are also known as hawk moths or hummingbird moths.

Where do tomato hornworms come from? (Family Plot)

Sphinx moths are often large and colorful, including shades of brown, olive, and pink. with wings that can span several inches.

The transformation from tomato hornworm caterpillar to tomato hornworm moth is a natural cycle that plays out in gardens and agricultural landscapes.

What Do Blue Hornworms Turn Into?

Blue hornworms undergo a fascinating transformation and eventually emerge as moths, much like their green counterparts.

The distinction between blue and green hornworms lies solely in their pigmentation. The color variation is a characteristic of their species, but the transformation process remains the same.

After entering the pupation stage, blue hornworms undergo remarkable changes within their protective casings.

The adult moths that emerge from blue hornworms belong to the family Geometridae, commonly known as geometer moths or inchworms.

These moths can have wingspans ranging from four to six inches and come in a variety of colors, including brown, gold, pink, and grey.

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What Do Green Hornworms Turn Into?

Green hornworms undergo a similar process of metamorphosis as blue hornworms, resulting in their transformation into moths.

While the green coloration is a characteristic of their species, the transformation process remains the same for both blue and green hornworms.

Same as blue hornworms, green hornworms have wingspans ranging from four to six inches. These moths belong to the same family as blue hornworms and can come in different colors such as brown, pink, grey, pink, and gold.

Should I Get Rid of Hornworms?

If you have ever dealt with hornworms in your garden, you know how frustrating it can be to watch them devour your beloved plants.

However, before deciding to get rid of hornworms, there are a few factors to consider.

Here we’ll discuss whether you should get rid of hornworms and provide some considerations to help you make an informed decision.

Severity of Infestation

  • Assess the extent of the damage caused by hornworms to your plants.
  • If the infestation is minimal and the plants can still recover, you may choose to tolerate a certain level of hornworm presence.
  • On the other hand, if the damage is severe and threatens the health and survival of your plants, intervention may be necessary.

Organic Gardening Practices

  • If you follow organic gardening practices, you might prefer using natural and environmentally friendly methods to control hornworm populations.
  • Techniques such as handpicking, using beneficial insects like parasitic wasps or ladybugs, or applying organic insecticides derived from natural sources can help manage the infestation while minimizing harm to beneficial organisms.

Crop Importance

  • Consider the value and significance of the affected crops.
  • If the plants under attack are essential for your livelihood, or if you have invested significant time and effort into growing them, you might be more inclined to take action to protect your harvest.
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Personal Tolerance

  • Evaluate your personal tolerance for sharing your garden space with hornworms.
  • Some gardeners enjoy observing the intricate life cycles of insects and are willing to coexist with them to some extent.
  • Others may have a lower tolerance and prefer to keep hornworm populations in check or eliminate them entirely.
Ultimately, the decision to get rid of hornworms depends on on your specific situation and preferences. 

If the hornworms are causing significant damage to your crops, removing them may be necessary. 

However, if the infestation is small and not causing significant harm, you may choose to leave them be and let natural predators take care of them.

Can I Keep a Hornworm as a Pet?

Can I Keep a Hornworm as a Pet?

Keeping a hornworm as a pet can be an interesting and educational experience. However, there are a few considerations to keep in mind before deciding to bring these caterpillars into your home.

Pros of Keeping Hornworms as Pets

  • Hornworms are relatively easy to care for, requiring minimal maintenance compared to other pets.
    • Their simple care routine makes them a convenient choice for pet owners.
  • Hornworms are highly nutritious and can serve as excellent feeder insects for pets like reptiles, amphibians, and birds.
    • Their soft bodies are easily digestible and provide essential nutrients for the health of your pet.
  • Observing the growth and transformation of hornworms is a captivating experience.
    • From their initial caterpillar form to their subsequent pupation and emergence as moths, you can witness the wonders of nature up close.
Hornworms as pets (growithjessie)

Cons of Keeping Hornworms as Pets

  • Hornworms typically have a relatively short lifespan, typically living for only a few weeks as adults.
    • This short lifespan should be considered when deciding to keep them as pets.
  • Hornworms require specific environmental conditions to thrive.
    • Maintaining a suitable temperature range of 75-85 degrees Fahrenheit is crucial for their well-being.
  • Hornworms may not be readily available in pet stores and may need to be ordered online or sourced from the wild.
    • Finding a reliable source for these caterpillars can sometimes be a challenge.
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How to Raise Hornworms to Moths

If you decide to keep hornworms as pets, Here are the basic steps to follow.

How to Raise Hornworms to Moths

Obtain Hornworms

  • You can purchase hornworms from a pet store or online, or you can collect them in the wild.
  • Make sure to only collect hornworms from areas where pesticide use is not prevalent.

Provide Food and Water

  • Offer fresh leaves as their primary food source.
  • Depending on the hornworm species, you can provide leaves from plants like tomatoes or grapes.
  • Hornworms also require a source of moisture to survive, which you can provide by misting their enclosure with water or providing a shallow dish of water for them to drink from.

Pupation

  • After feeding and growing for several weeks, hornworms will enter the pupal stage.
  • At this point, they should be transferred to a separate enclosure with soil or sand for them to burrow into.

Emergence

  • After a few weeks, the hornworms will emerge as moths.
  • Allow them to dry their wings and then release them into the wild.
If you wish to breed hornworms, keep in mind that they will need to complete their transformation into moths and mate. 

This process may require additional considerations and understanding of their reproductive biology.
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Final Thoughts

Hornworms transform into adult moths during their pupal stage. These moths are large and beautiful insects with a wingspan of up to four inches.

Knowing this life cycle can help us appreciate the role of hornworms in the ecosystem, as they serve as important food sources for birds and other wildlife, despite being a nuisance to gardeners.

If you’re interested in raising hornworms to moths, remember to provide them with a suitable environment that includes fresh food and water sources.

Overall, understanding what hornworms turn into is a fascinating natural process that highlights the interconnectedness of all living things.

FAQs

Do all hornworms transform into moths?

Yes, all hornworms undergo metamorphosis and transform into moths.

Are hornworm moths harmful to plants?

Hornworm moths do not harm plants. It is the caterpillar stage of hornworms that can cause damage by feeding on plant foliage.

Are hornworms poisonous or harmful to humans?

Hornworms are not poisonous or harmful to humans. They are safe to handle, but it’s always a good idea to wash your hands after touching them.

How can I attract hornworm moths to my garden?

To attract hornworm moths to your garden, you can plant flowers that are known to be attractive to moths, such as petunias, moonflowers, or honeysuckle.

Do hornworms need sunlight?

Hornworms are typically active at night and prefer dark and shaded areas. While they don’t necessarily need direct sunlight, they do require ambient light for their biological processes.

Do hornworms need air?

Hornworms, like all living organisms, require oxygen to survive. They obtain the necessary air through tiny openings called spiracles on their body.

How are hornworms born?

Hornworms are born from eggs laid by adult moths. The eggs hatch and the hornworms emerge as tiny caterpillars ready to feed and grow.

Are hornworms male or female?

Hornworms can be both male and female. The sex of a hornworm can be determined by examining the ventral tip of the abdomen. Males exhibit two small bumps on segment 9, while segment 9 is smooth on females, with a thin groove on segment 8.

Are tomato worms poisonous?

Tomato hornworms are not poisonous. Although they can cause damage to tomato plants, they are not harmful or toxic if accidentally ingested by humans.

What color is a hornworm’s blood?

A hornworm’s blood is blue in color. Invertebrates like hornworms have blood-containing hemocyanin, a copper-based chemical that gives it a bluish appearance.

Resources – (for further reading)

Encyclopedia Britannica – Metamorphosis | Insect Development, Adaptation & Evolution

Carolina Knowledge Center – Teach Life Cycles with the Tobacco Hornworm

Wikipedia – Sphingidae

I'm Ernest M Noah, the founder of BugsTips.com. I have years of experience as an exterminator in Texas and Idaho, and I'm passionate about educating people on how to deal with pest problems effectively and safely.