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Please tell me what is eating my pepper plants!!

(Carole) Cleveland, TX(Zone 9a)

I've been trying since early March to grow peppers from plants (not from seed) in several different spots in our garden and flower beds. Much to my dismay they are all being eaten by SOMEthing. I can never CATCH anything on my plants, but one day they look good, healthy enough, and the next day... practically stripped!! I even had peppers starting... next day... not only are the leaves gone, but the whole dog gone pepper too!

SHOOT! What's UP?!!!

If I need to provide pics I will, but it's so disheartening as it is...


(Carole) Cleveland, TX(Zone 9a)

Forgot to mention... I've tried cayenne, jalapeno, pablano, banana, anaheim, and believe it or not... the only peppers they haven't gotten to are my bellpeppers.

Orlando, FL

I don't know the answer but have the same problem. Someone told me it is slugs and set out a saucer of beer and the slugs will drown in it. Didn't happen and my pepper plants are being defoliated and the peppers themselves have huge bites.. What's up?

Caneyville, KY(Zone 6b)

I think it's a tomatoe hornworm, with the leaves being stripped like that. I've removed and squished several off of my plants. I wondered about what appeared to be chew marks on my tomatoes and peppers. Hadn't heard of that before, but I remove them pretty quick.

It's about the size of a pencil or a little bigger, 1 1/2" - 2" long, kind of a lime green color, that crawls up the stem. A couple I picked off had what I guess was white eggs on their backs. Just check your plants over, and you will probably find it. They blend in really well with the stem color!


Mooresville, NC(Zone 7b)

The tomato hormworm likes pepper plants, tomatoes, potatoes and eggplant. Occasionally, they may also feed on green fruit.
I had my first experience with them a few weeks back and it actually scared the ba-hoo-hoo out of me. I was looking at a tomato plant up close, looking for aphids and I turned my head and about 3 or 4 inches from my nose was a hornworm. I think S.C. heard my startled cry! And Robin....this was no pencil thin moustache...that sucker (pardon the pun) was as big around as my middle finger! And right at 4 inches long. And yes...I took a picture. This thing ranks right up there with the "Alien in my Soil" creature!
The little white cocoons on it's back are indeed eggs. But not eggs of the hornworm. They are from a beneficial wasp. The wasp injects the worm with the 'eggs' and they feed on the inside of the hornworm until they are ready to pupate. The wasps will kill the hornworm when they emerge from the cocoons and will seek out other hornworms to parasitize.
So if you find a hornworm with the cocoons, leave them so they can hatch and parasitize other hornworms. Those that don't have the cocoons, just pick them off and sqwuish 'em!
Since they do camaflouge very well, look for little black droppings. If you see those, look above the droppings to find a hornworm.
Here's a link to see what they look like. Click here: My California Garden in Zone 23: Tomato Hornworm
(By the way...these don't make good fishing worms. I already tried that. Once you prick them with the hook, they deflate and lime green 'stuff' squirts everywhere. lol)

Hope this helps!
Oh yeah...if you don't want to pick them off by hand, get you some BT and dust on them. It takes a couple of days to work but once the powder gets on them, they immediately stop eating!

Good luck!

(How did I do, Shoe?) :)

Mooresville, NC(Zone 7b)

That little click didn't work...

Try this

Pelzer, SC(Zone 7b)

Pinger42 wrote;" I think S.C. heard my startled cry!"

So THAT"S what that was! I don't blame you, though. It always amazes me, I can sit there and examine the entire plant, and see nothing. Then it just simply appears. Once I've found it, I wonder how I could have missed it, but until then....and don't turn away, it'll be gone again.....

BTW, I don't kill them, I move them to some american nightshade plants that I'd otherwise be pulling up, and everyone's happy.

Mooresville, NC(Zone 7b)


It would have been a bit different had I known that the "Incredible Hulk" even existed. I was concentrating so hard on turning and looking under every little leaf for aphids, I was literally 'in the plant'. And just one little turn of my head and he right there, in my face. I really don't remember screaming but I do know that I jerk backed and rocked a bit on my stool....then sat there a minute while my heart slowed
And the first thing I thought was, "Wait until they see THIS...they're not gonna believe me!" So I ran in to get my camera and sure enough, when I got back, I couldn't find him. I finally did...he was in the same spot, I just couldn't see him.
Also, about three days later, I saw the biggest 'beetle' I've ever seen.... anyone know what that was? I say 'was' because he didn't live more than 5 seconds after I saw He was easily the size of a quarter. Anyone know?
Here's a pic of my first Hornworm. By the way Cajun2....have you found any Hornworms yet?

Thumbnail by Pinger42
Orlando, FL

Slugs were doing this to my peppers. I put a saucer of beer at the base of the plant and caught very many of them. I also read that by putting nutshells or something else rugged at the base of the plants also deters slugs

Ellensburg, WA

I'm having the same problem with my peppers, but I don't think I Hornworms live in my region. Additionally, my tomatoes and eggplants are doing just fine. Recently I've also seen evidence of chomping on my lettuce and even my peas now as well.

Phoenix, AZ(Zone 9a)

Pinger - I know exactly what you went through!! I had a similar experience a few weeks ago. I was looking for them as I had seen droppings, but couldn't for the life of me find one. And then there it was, right in front of my face... Scared the daylights out of me and probably the entire city of Phoenix when I screamed. I tried to pick that puppy off the flower it was on and it wouldn't budge. That totally upped the "creep factor" of this thing! I finally had to grab my garden scissors and cut the entire stem off. Then I threw it in a bucket of water until it stopped squirming - yuck!! Major yuck!! In this picture it's still clinging to the branch, dead as a doornail - lol.

I've found a couple babies since, but nothing as big and gross as this one.


Thumbnail by locakelly
Albuquerque, NM(Zone 7a)

Hornworms will wreak havoc in a matter of hours. Last year I had only two or three, but in less than 12 hours one little worm ate almost half of one of my pepper plants. Already mentioned but they're pretty well camouflaged and you're more likely to see the damage and there rat size poop before you see them. They make a satisfying squish sound when you step on them.

I don't know if you have squirrels or rabbits but I have ground squirrels that love to eat everything. It's an ongoing battle. I catch one and move it miles away but it seems there's always two more to take it's place. I was suffering major damage earlier but I put up a big fence which eliminated horses, dogs, and the chupacabra as suspects but squirrels have been spotted destroying what was left of my swiss chard. They also uprooted my lettuce and took it all earlier this year. They also nibble on tomato leaves and fruit. I'm still seeing the random bite taken out of my basil and peppers and suspect squirrels. I suspect rabbits would be similar. Isn't it fun? =)

And oh yeah, I'm glad I wrote all this down and then realized this post is two years old.... but you guys/girls already knew that right?

Terrace, Canada

Gross, gross, gross! I don't ever want to see one in my garden!!!

Kingman, AZ(Zone 7a)

Something is eating my leaves of my Bell Peppers and I thought it was the ants I was trying to kill in the garden... I wonder if I have one of them ugly critters... I will check this evening.. but if I dont, could it be them Big ants and they are geting revenge on me for trying to get them out of my garden? BTWE Amdros did not kill them ants, just made them mad.

Phoenix, AZ(Zone 9a)

I found a teeny baby hornworm on one of my pepper plants. Nowhere near as scary as the big one in the picture - lol. Check really well under the leaves. They like to lurk there... I've had a lot of ants this year, too. Creepy little guys tried to eat my first planting of corn believe it or not. I lost about half the ears because the ants got in there - gross.

Glen Ellyn, IL(Zone 5b)

Corn earworms are also very fond of peppers.

Kingman, AZ(Zone 7a)

Yep I lost all of my first planting of corn to the ants as well. I picked up some cheap ant killer at the dollar general yesterday, it said it was safe to use in the garden and around pets. I figured it was 2 bucks what could it hurt. This morning I went out and they were all laying there dead on the hill.... WHOOO HOOO.. They hurt me when they bit me, so I am thinking no more bites.

I will look for little ones, I did look for droppings and did not see any.

Fort Mill, SC

I had the same problem with my pepper plants and could find the horn worm. I noticed it got worse at night so I just went out with a flash light. Slugs. Slugs every where. I used some cedar oil (not sure if it will work). Time to look for how to deal with slugs.

Charlotte, NC(Zone 7b)

ellscott - Sluggo-Plus will kill slugs. I have something eating my peppers, too. But it can't be slugs in my case, 'cause I've sprinkled sluggo plus and coffee grounds around them, and I know sluggo will kill slugs.

I've turned the problem over to the birds, or whatever preditor will feast on the culprits!

This photo was taken yesterday.

Thumbnail by HoneybeeNC
Albuquerque, NM(Zone 7a)

Quote from HoneybeeNC :

I've turned the problem over to the birds, or whatever preditor will feast on the culprits!

Birds won't mess with pepper vegetation but they will eat the actual peppers. Sweet or hot, they all taste delicious to birds.

Charlotte, NC(Zone 7b)

Dorkasaurus - I have a love/hate relationship with birds. I love to see them at my feeders, and the fact that they eat lots of insects, but when they peck holes in the tomatoes I want to scream!

And why to the little darlings find it necessary to peck-off the tips of the pole beans? They do the same thing to peas. They sit on the bean/pea supports and pick off the tops. It's like the vines obscure their view, or something!

Albuquerque, NM(Zone 7a)

Last year was the first year I had any bird problems but they did peck at my peppers and beans, and if the squirrels didn't take all of my tomatoes I suspect the birds would have gone after them too. I guess I didn't expect so much trouble living five minutes from downtown but it's like wild kingdom out here with the frogs, lizards, roadrunners, hawks, pheasants, squirrels, mice, dogs, horses, and insects. I like to pretend I'm getting better at handling all the threats but I'm not sure that's 100% true. A man's gotta dream though.

Charlotte, NC(Zone 7b)

I live within the city limits of Charlotte, about 8 miles or so from downtown, and we have squirrels, hawks, black vultures, turkey vultures, deer, raccoons, birds, ground sqiurrels, barred owls, frogs, toads, and opossums. These are just the ones I have seen. I'm having a problem with voles, but haven't actually seen one, just the mischief the perform each night. I used to see a little striped lizard, but not this year - perhaps our cold winter was too much for them.

There are rumours about coyotes being present in the woods here, and one neighbor swore she saw a mountain lion, but I doubt that one.

Fort Worth, TX(Zone 8a)

I kept finding the frass of something on my pepper plant leaves last year, and couldn't find whatever it was that was leaving the droppings. Then I found the nasty bugger! This thing ate several of my pepper leaves and almost all of my lemon balm!

Thumbnail by stephanietx
Charlotte, NC(Zone 7b)

That's a tomato hornworm, isn't it? I always admire how pretty they look - right before I squish them!

Phoenix, AZ(Zone 9a)

LOL - fascinating, creepy guys - and destructive for sure. It's too bad because the moth is a beautiful beneficial insect.

Here's my guy from the other day. First big one I've found this year. But where there's one there's more...

Thumbnail by locakelly
Pelzer, SC(Zone 7b)

"There are rumours about coyotes being present in the woods here, and one neighbor swore she saw a mountain lion, but I doubt that one."

I'm about 90 miles from you, and can swear to the coyotes, if you don't have them yet, they're on the way. We're having more and more reported sightings of big cats lately, and while DNR still says it's impossible, I'm not so sure. The deer population would sure support a cat or three. Some of the locals say they've been here all along, but nobody bothers to report them, since they're never believed....

Charlotte, NC(Zone 7b)

catmad - I agree, the deer population could support a few large cats. We would have to worry about our small dogs - they must look like tasty treats to cougars.

SE Houston (Hobby), TX(Zone 9a)

Ok, I've read enough...Ya'll just don't know how my heart goes out to poor Harry...


Tomato Hornworm Camouflage Class 101, subtitled: "The Trouble With Harry"
Since, I totally admire Harry, once I realized he would NOT eat me alive, I began to study his camouflage habits. As much as I admire him, I do like to "cut to the chase" with locating and removing him from his defoliation efforts. So, I studied him. And, studied him some more. Because I got tired of running into him by accident, inches from my nose! And, what I found is this:

Notice the position of Harry #? in Locakelly's photo in the link below (most excellent videography, indeed). Harry is "out on a limb" so to speak, on the farthest-most branch, hanging upside down, clinging to the very tip. This is his preferred route of defoliation. He starts at the topmost branch that will support his weight, turns belly up and will munch and work his way downward from there back to the stem, then on to the next outermost, lower branch.

So, next time you look for Harry, start at the top of your tomato plant and work your way down. Look to the underside of the outermost branches first. It helps to identify the size of Harry's poop, too. This will give you a clue as to how BIG or how small he will be, so you'll know which size branches to search. And, chances are, you won't end up with him in your hair (not that he'll be interested in your hair, of course...), or on your nose!

What makes Harry so endearing is that, for all purposes and intents, that wicked-looking stinger on his butt is totally harmless -- Harry suffers from pure and absolute "performance anxiety." Upon removal from a branch (when you can get him to let go!), he will render an Oscar winning performance at "playing dead," for however long it takes to fool you into thinking he really is dead. I've watched him for as long as 10-15 minutes, and he will not move until he's absolutely sure it's safe for him to do so. Gotta love him!

(I probably should turn this into an article, huh? I've read simpler primers...)

Here's Harry!

This message was edited Jun 25, 2010 1:56 PM

Phoenix, AZ(Zone 9a)

Nice intro Linda... This Harry's poop was quite substantial, about the size of BBs for my kids' airsoft guns... Where there's poop, there's a Harry. Look up.

Candor, NY

I am having the problem that something is snipping off budding peppers, so that they are completely gone. What small animal might this be? The rat trap with peanut butter took no victims.

Phoenix, AZ(Zone 9a)

My guess - birds! They are sneaky and not the usual suspects...

Charlotte, NC(Zone 7b)

Sandy - if your peppers are in cages, then I suspect birds, too. They like to sit on the rails and peck at anything within reach.

They also eat bugs, so they have their good side.

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