What do hornworms eat? This may seem like a simple question, but the answer is actually a bit complicated, and varies depending on context. Whether you want to know the Manduca sexta caterpillar’s preferred wild diet or what they can be successfully raised on in captivity for use as feeders, keep reading!
What Do Hornworms Eat in the Wild?
Manduca sexta moths prefer to lay their eggs on plants in the Solanaceae (nightshade) family, which includes plants like tomatoes, tobacco, eggplant, peppers, and potatoes. When the eggs hatch, the caterpillars (also known as hornworms) start to eat the plant surrounding them. Hornworms have a voracious appetite and are best known for eating the leaves of their host plant, but they will also eat the plant’s unripe fruits.
As you can imagine, since many of the plants that the hornworm prefers are important to agriculture, hornworms are widely considered to be a pest.
DO NOT feed wild hornworms to your reptiles! The leaves of plants in the nightshade family can be highly toxic, which in turn can make the hornworm poisonous to eat!
How to Feed Your Hornworms
Most captive-bred hornworms are raised on a commercial diet like our Hornworm Food formula. Commercial hornworm diet is typically based on wheat germ or similar, and is comparable to mulberry-alternative silkworm diets.
Why use a commercial diet rather than greens? Commercial hornworm diets make care and cleanup easier when hornworms are raised in the conventional 32oz deli cup. Commercial diet also tends to be more nutrition than greens alone, enhancing the nutrition of the hornworms themselves. As a bonus, it tends to turn the hornworms an appetizing aqua blue color!
What to do if you run out of powdered hornworm food:
If you run out of powdered hornworm food before you’ve been able to feed all of the hornworms to your pet reptile or amphibian, the best option is to mix more. However, it’s not a good idea to leave hornworms without a food source even for a day. If you can’t get hornworm chow within the day, here is a list of safe, nutritious greens that your hornworms will be likely to be willing to eat:
- Collard greens
- Turnip greens
- Mustard greens
- Mulberry leaves
- Grape leaves
- Dandelion greens
Although hornworms prefer solanaceous plants, they are known to eat other greens in captivity if offered. One source claims that hornworms actually prefer greens to artificial diet if given the choice.
Note that feeding your hornworms on greens rather than commercial hornworm chow is likely to change their color from blue to green. This is not harmful.
How to Cook Hornworm Food
DubiaRoaches.com’s specialized Hornworm Food sold by jsreptiles.com makes approximately 5 times its weight when cooked. So one dry 2oz packet will make approximately 11 oz of wet food.
Boil 1 cup of water on the stove. Once the water is at a rolling boil, whisk in the powdered diet slowly. Mix the contents on heat until all powder is completely and evenly blended. NO CLUMPS! Remove the hornworm food paste from the heat and continue to mix for 3-4 more minutes.
At this point, pour the paste into the bottom of a spare hornworm cup and let it solidify at room temperature (this will take 1-2 hours). Once the food has solidified, you can transfer your hornworms.
Do Hornworms Need Water?
Hornworms get all the water they need from their food, whether they eat greens or commercial hornworm diet. This means that no additional sources of water, such as water crystals, are required.
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