What Do Hornworms Eat?

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Hornworms are the larvae of a moth from the Lepidoptera family.  There are about 1450 species of horn moth and they can go by a variety of names such as hawk moths, sphinx moths, white-lined sphinx worms, tobacco worms, and others.

These worms are quite large.  The tomato hornworm can grow up 80mm in length. Some of the hornworm species are larger than others.

In some regions, hornworm species like the tobacco hornworm is considered a pest because it can cause extensive damage to tobacco farms but on other occasions, children love to keep these worms as pets.  Some hornworm species are also sold as feed for lizards like the bearded dragon.

What Do Hornworms Eat?

Hornworms are the true ‘hungry caterpillars’ because they do have quite a healthy appetite since they are such large worms.  They can almost double in size every day if they are offered enough food. All hornworms are herbivores and they do consume quite a few plant types.

Some species do however prefer certain plants over others.   Hornworms may change color based on the food they eat. Here is a quick look at some of the most common foods that hornworms love to eat.

Hornworm chow

Most breeders and pet owners like to stock up on hornworm chow so there will always be something to feed these worms if you are all out of their usual fresh foods.  Hornworm chow can be made from a variety of ingredients such as wheat germ, agar, linseed oil, flake yeast, dandelion leaves, grapevine leaves, and other ingredients.

Many manufacturers also add additional vitamins and minerals to boost the growth of these insects or to create ‘gut-loaded’ foods for reptiles.

Tomato plants

Hornworms love to eat soft tomato leaves.  They can cause quite a lot of damage to crops.  While hornworms are perfectly capable of eating tomato leaves, it isn’t the best food to offer them if you are planning on using your worms as lizard feed.  Tomato leaves do make hornworms toxic and can poison your lizards.

Mulberry leaves or silkworm chow

Hornworms also love mulberry leaves.  This is also the primary food source for silkworms.  Ideally, you should offer your hornworms soft mulberry leaves.  You can also buy and feed your worms on silkworm chow because this chow is made from mulberry leaves.


Hornworms can also eat a variety of vegetables.  They can eat sliced tomatoes, broccoli, spinach, mashed celery, collard greens, red bell peppers, romaine lettuce, and raw potatoes.

Ideally, you shouldn’t try to raise your hornworms on romaine lettuce or celery because these foods contain very little nutritional value.  This is a good emergency food or snack to offer your worms.


Some hornworm species do eat tobacco leaves without becoming toxic themselves.  This is because they can secrete most of the toxins.

It is probably best not to offer this food supply if you are planning on feeding hornworms to other animals.  They do not secrete all tobacco toxins and these foods can affect the health of other animals like lizards negatively.

Grapevine leaves

You can also feed your worms on grapevine leaves.  It is best to offer them fresh green leaves.  This is a good food source but it isn’t available to just about anyone.  If you do happen to live close to a winery or have your grapevine then this can be a great go-to food to offer your worms.

Dandelion leaves

These worms also love to eat dandelion leaves.  These leaves won’t make your worms toxic since dandelion is a healthy herb that is often used in tea and other health foods.  The only issue with dandelion leaves is that these leaves could be treated with weed killers which can poison your worms.


Hornworms get all their needed water from the food they consume and won’t directly drink water.  They can easily drown.  If you want to ensure that your worms get enough water then you can lightly sprinkle some foods like leaves with water.

Diet Variations

If hornworms lack protein or moisture they can and become cannibalistic and will eat each other or they might try to eat other worms.  They generally do not eat insects but will eat each other in extreme cases.

How to Feed Hornworms?

These worms are fairly easy to feed.  You can simply add fresh food to their cage daily and they will be happy to munch as much as they can manage in a day.

The best way to keep your hornworms fed and clean is by adding them on top of a grit sheet so their droppings can easily be separated for easy cleaning.

Ideally, your hornworms should be offered a balanced diet that includes 85% moisture, 10% protein, 3% fiber, and 2% fat.

To accomplish this, you can simply add lots of leafy greens with a little bit of fresh sliced vegetables every day.

What Do Hornworms Eat In The Wild?

Hornworms are often labeled as pests because they tend to flock to crops to feed on foods like tomato, eggplant, pepper, tobacco, moonflowers, and potatoes.  In the wild they can only consume foods they find in their natural environment and as such, they tend to linger around agricultural sectors or areas with foods like mulberry trees.

What do Baby Hornworms Eat?

Baby hornworms eat the same basic food as adult hornworms but they do need softer foods.  They are eager eaters since the moment they hatch.  The best food to offer young hornworms is soft leaves and moist fresh vegetables or hornworm chow.

How Much Do Hornworms Eat?

Hornworms can eat a lot in a day.  At warm temperatures of 82 degrees F, they can almost double in size in a day if they have access to enough food.

As a rule of thumb, each hornworm will eat 1oz of hornworm chow during its pupae stage.  To raise 16 hornworms you will need 1 pound of prepared food.

How Often Should Hornworms Eat?

Hornworms need fresh food every day.  If they do not have access to food for a single day, they will die.  The best way to offer them food is by adding fresh leaves to their cage every single day.  Young hornworms need to be fed more frequently since they require the extra moisture to stay hydrated.

Can Humans Eat Hornworms?

These worms are part of the edible insects.  They can be eaten by boiling, frying or drying the insects.  It is however important not to eat just any hornworm.  They can become toxic if they consume tomato or tobacco leaves.  Those that eat hornworms say that these insects taste a lot like the type of plant or food they eat.  Some say these worms taste a lot like green tomatoes, shrimp, and crab.

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