The super plump and hard to find Tobacco Hornworm is a soft caterpillar that does not sting. It is a fast and furious consumer of leaves and a couple can defoliate a tomato plant almost overnight. The head and body are bright green, almost the same shade as the plant they feed on, making it very difficult to see them. Seven white diagonal stripes on the side of the body angle upward toward the rear end. Small black eyespots sit at the base of each diagonal line. A red tail, or 'horn', at the rear end is flexible. Feet are black and white and prolegs have yellow tips. These legs are strong, gripping a stem so tightly that a good tug is needed to pull one off the plant. The larger one is, the stronger it seems. The caterpillar can move almost as quickly as it can eat.
In addition to tomatoes, the Tobacco Hornworm also feeds on tobacco leaves, moonflower, and other plants in the nightshade family like potatoes, peppers, and eggplants. A fierce feeder, it leaves behind dark green pellets of feces on the plant. For young caterpillars, these pellets may be the first sign of their presence for a gardener. If left unhindered, entire plants can be left without leaves, hampering fruit production and certainly the subsequent harvest. Hand removal is effective in controlling them and saving a plant.
The adult moth is called the Tobacco Hornworm Moth. It is dark brown and seemingly plain until it reveals its body. Six bright orange bands are on each side of the abdomen, which can help identify it.
The map above showcases (in blue) the states and territories of North America where the Tobacco Hornworm may be found (but is not limited to). This sort of data can be useful in seeing concentrations of a particular species over the continent as well as revealing possible migratory patterns over a species' given lifespan. Some species 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.*NOTE: States/Territories shown above are a general indicator of areas inhabited by the Tobacco Hornworm. Insects generally go where they please, typically driven by diet, environmental changes, and / or mating habits.