Pests of the Tomato Plant

Written by jourdan townsend
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Tomatoes are one of the most-loved vegetables in the world, even though they are technically fruit. Tomatoes are also fairly easy to grow and are a good choice as a first gardening project for the beginner or a 4-H student. Unfortunately, the fairly fragile tomato plant is also plagued by one of the largest varieties of pests. From the tops of their blossoms to the tips of their roots, there isn't any part of this plant that some pest doesn't relish, and you must be on the offensive to protect your crop.

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Pests That Eat the Tomato Plants

Tomato Fruitworm The tomato fruitworm is identified by cream or yellow-green larvae and hairy adults with light stripes and dark spots that are green, brown or reddish in colour. If you see holes chewed in the buds of tomato blossoms or in new fruits, they might be caused by the tomato fruitworm.

Tobacco Budworm A type of caterpillar, small and slim, that is similar to the tomato fruitworm and also dines on the flowers and fruit buds of the tomato plants.

Tomato Pinworm The larva of the tomato pinworm are yellow-grey in colour and very small. The adults are yellow, grey or green and have purple spots. Signs of a tomato pinworm infestation include mine paths on the surface of leaves; leaves that are curled and spun together; holes in the stems, buds or fruits of the plant; fruits with small holes surrounded by dark splotches.

Vegetable Leafminer This insect is seen on plants only in maggot form, being white to intense yellow in colour. The vegetable leafminer leaves curving mine patterns in the surface of the tomato leaves, with one end being larger than the other.

Pests That Chew the Leaves

Blister Beetle As the name implies, this is a long, slender type of beetle. Blister beetles are black but can sometimes have touches of yellow. Blister beetles leave lines of dark excrement on the leaves of tomato plants, and the leaves of infected plants will be torn and jagged. Plants suffering from blister beetles often do not grow well.

Cabbage Looper The cabbage looper is a type of caterpillar, green in colouration with white stripes. Adults may be found on the surface of the leaves, while larvae will be found underneath. A key sign that your tomatoes are hosting the cabbage looper is finding skeleton leaves on your plants. The cabbage looper feasts on the soft part of the leaves, between the veining.

Colorado Potato Beetle This beetle is oval-shaped and plump and is brown-yellow with striping on the wings and spots on the head. Large portions of your tomato leaves may be missing, and you may notice that dead leaves disappear, if the Colorado potato beetle is residing on your tomato plants.

Flea Beetle(s) This name refers to more than one species of very small, dark beetle that chews tiny, pin-sized holes in the leaves of tomato plants.

Hornworms One of the most common pests found in the tomato garden, the hornworm is easily identified by the large, hooked red or black anal horn that protrudes from its reddish-brown body. The hornworm may have dark V-shaped or round marks along its sides. The large hornworm, who can digest many times its size, will eat entire leaves off of tomato plants and may, in fact, eat significant portions of mature fruits. You might owe the family dog an apology.

Pests That Suck the Sap

Aphids The scourge of most outdoor plants, aphids are small, soft, hourglass-shaped insects that mainly cling to the underside of plants so that they may drink the sap from young, healthy leaves. If you notice yellow or brown spotting on your tomato leaves, you very likely have aphids.

Greenhouse Whitefly Often mistaken for moths, these white, winged insects dehydrate tomato plants by removing all of the sap. You may notice that whole leaves yellow and fall off or that a coating of dark slime mould appears on the surface of attached leaves.

Stink Bug If you are in doubt that what you've found is a stink bug, step on it. You'll know right away. The stink bug did not get its name from smelling like a bouquet of roses. Stink bugs are green or brown and may have orange and black markings. They are oddly-shaped, resembling a coat-of-arms. They bite into buds and new fruit growth to drink the nectar, causing the flowers to wilt and fall off of the plant and the fruits to be disfigured.

Silverleaf Whitefly The silverleaf whitefly is slightly more yellow in colour than the greenhouse whitefly, and many people believe the silverleaf whitefly to be a small, white butterfly due to the way it holds its wings at a 45-degree angle. Unfortunately, these lovely creatures can do major harm to your plants. Tomato plants damaged by silverleaf whiteflies will not grow as well as they should and may be coated in dark powdery or slimy (if moisture is present) mould.

Western Flower Thrip This insect is narrow with a rounded "pot belly." The adults may be pale yellow to dark brown in colour, but larvae are always yellow. If western flower thrips are present on tomato plants, offshoots may not grow, making the plant itself appear weak and oddly shaped. The entire plant may also have a more silver or grey colour to it, rather than a healthy green.

Pests that Eat the Roots

Cutworm Cutworms are actually very fat caterpillars, and come in grey, black and brown. These caterpillars burrow into the ground near the base of plants and feast on the roots and delicate lower stems, though younger insects may be found on the bottom leaves eating away at the higher ones.

Southern Potato Wireworm Named for its slender, wirelike appearance, the southern potato wireworm is cream, white or greyish-yellow in colour, but always with a reddish-orange head. These worms live below the surface of the soil and chew holes through the roots of plants. You will only know whether or not they are present by pulling up dead plants and inspecting the roots for their handiwork.

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