Hornworm caterpillars can grow to over six inches long, and unfortunately, they have a tendency to devour plants, making them unpopular with farmers and gardeners alike. However, they’re vital to the ecosystem and become some of the best pollinators around.
This is no exaggeration. The University of Minnesota reported that hornworm caterpillars can completely defoliate plants and chew through fruit. In fact, it reported that in a hornworm caterpillar’s last stage of development, they consume almost as much as all the previous stages combined.
With that said, hornworm caterpillars aren’t all bad, and there are ways to keep them from destroying your garden.
One suggestion is simple: Keep an eye out for them, and move them to a different location if you see any. One blogger mentioned that they plant extra seeds in a separate “sacrificial area,” which is solely for the caterpillars, and they move any that they find into this garden area so everyone can coexist happily.
Further, while they may be a nuisance, hornworm caterpillars can be a great teaching tool for kids. Their size makes them easy to observe in school gardens or at home.
Along with that, the caterpillars eventually turn into hawk or sphinx moths (sometimes called hummingbird moths), which have a number of benefits for the environment and your garden.
They’re impressive pollinators — known for being able to carry nectar over 18 miles away — tending to go farther than bees and birds, according to Smithsonian Magazine. Their ability to pollinate so well is great for your flowers and vital to protecting a number of plant species, some of which are endangered.
Hornworm caterpillars certainly have their costs and benefits, and commenters on the Reddit post had a number of perspectives.
One, who was understandably frustrated by the caterpillars’ appetite, wrote, “Bane of the backyard gardens.”
Others, however, were happy to entertain the large bugs in their gardens. One wrote, “I grow [tomatoes] JUST for these guys, lol. One can never have enough hummingbird moths.”
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