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7 Worms That Eat Pepper Plants

How To Get Rid of Pepper Worms

Pepper worms are the bane of many pepper plants. Although they’re bright and tiny, they can rapidly destroy an entire crop of peppers and leave you with no leaves, broken stems and inedible peppers. 

If you’re seeing some worms crawling near your pepper plant, it’s time to take proactive steps to get rid of them. In this article, we’ll walk you through the most common pepper worms and how to prevent or get rid of them.

Types of Pepper Plant-Eating Worms

1. Tomato Hornworm

Tomato Hornworm
Image: University of Milwaukee
Scientific NameManduca quinquemaculata
Common Name• Tomato Hornworm
• Tomato Cutworm
• Five-spotted hawk moth
How to Identify• Green, brown, gray or yellow body
• White horizontal V-shaped stripes
• Black horn at the back of the worm
What They Eat• Leaves
• Flower buds Stems
What You Should Do• Remove worms manually.
• Apply organic pesticide.

Tomato hornworms chew on the leaves of pepper plants, often leaving only the veins behind. They can also cut down the entire pepper plant by eating its stem.

You’ll know your pepper plant is in trouble when you see black balls of frass on your leaves. Chances are, tomato hornworms will greet you on the underside of these leaves.

Remove them immediately when you see them in your pepper plant; otherwise, they can destroy them in 4 to 6 weeks. 

These hornworms follow a notorious cycle of infestation. After the growing season, they enter into a dormant state and stay in the soil, but once spring comes, they will start laying their eggs on the pepper plant leaves and start eating the whole plant. 

What You Should Do
1. Remove worms manually.

Once you spot them, remove the tomato hornworms manually and drop them off a bucket of soapy water. You can also feed them to chickens.
Tomato hornworms also glow under black light, so you can easily track them with a black light flashlight. 
2. Apply organic pesticide.
We recommend using organic pesticides if you have a large tomato hornworm infestation. Use those with Bacillus thuringiensis because this naturally occurring bacteria is a stomach poison for these hornworms.

2. Tobacco Hornworm

Tobacco Hornworm
Image: Google Images
Scientific NameManduca sexta
Common NameTobacco Hornworm
How to Identify• White diagonal stripes
• Red horn at the back
What They EatLeaves Fruits
What You Should Do• Remove worms manually.
• Apply organic pesticide.

Tobacco hornworms mainly differ from tomato hornworms because of their white diagonal stripe on their bodies. They’re voracious eaters that can strip off pepper plants’ leaves and even damage their fruits’ skin. 

This hornworm variety actually comes from the larvae of the tobacco hawk moth, popularly known as the Carolina sphinx moth. It lays eggs on plant leaves, which later hatch into tobacco hornworms. 

What You Should Do
1. Remove worms manually.

Once you see a tobacco hornworm in your pepper plant, pick it off and drop it in a bucket of soapy water or feed them to chickens. You can use a black light flashlight to see them quickly as they attack your plant at night.
2. Apply organic pesticide.
We recommend using organic pesticides with Bacillus thuringiensis because this bacteria works by disrupting the worm’s gut and starving them to death.

3. Beet Armyworm

 Beet Armyworm
Image: Growing Produce
Scientific NameSpodoptera exigua
Common Name• Beet Armyworm
• Small Mottled Willow Moth
How to IdentifyPale green or yellow and striped body Leaves strands of silk
What They Eat• Flower buds
• LeavesFruits
What You Should Do• Use pheromone traps.
• Remove worms manually.
• Apply Neem oil.

Beet armyworms are pale green or yellow caterpillars with distinct stripes and dashes on their bodies. The ultimate sign of beet armyworm infestation is the silk strands on the leaves of pepper plants. 

These beet armyworms actually come from the larvae of the small, mottled willow moth. It lays eggs on pepper plants during the growing season, which hatches into caterpillars and feeds on the leaves, flower buds and fruits. 

What You Should Do
1. Use pheromone traps.

Pheromone traps bait moths by mimicking the scent of a female moth. Once the male moth smells this chemical, it gets trapped even before they get to lay eggs on the pepper plant.
2. Remove worms manually.
It’s best to hand-pick beet armyworms in the morning because these caterpillars are inactive. After hand-picking them, drop the worms in a bucket of soapy water or feed them to chickens.
3. Apply Neem oil.
Neem oil is an effective natural pesticide that can kill beet armyworms. It works to poison the stomach of the worms and starve them to death.

4. Fall Armyworm

Fall Armyworm
Image: South African National Biodiversity Institute
Scientific NameSpodoptera frugiperda
Common NameFall Armyworm
How to Identify• Brown, green or yellow with stripes
• Inverted V on the head
• Males have white spots on their wings
What They Eat• Leaves
• Fruit
What You Should Do• Use pheromone traps.
• Apply organic pesticide.

Fall armyworms are easily identifiable for their brown, green or yellow and black-striped bodies with an inverted “Y” on their heads. These 1.5-inch-long pests are active from late summer until fall, hence, their name. 

Male fall armyworms usually have white spots on their wings, while their female counterparts lay eggs under the pepper plant leaves. 

One female armyworm can lay over 2,000 eggs in one sitting, and when all these hatch, they will feed on the leaves and fruits of your pepper plant until they rot and fall to the ground.

What You Should Do
1. Use pheromone traps.

You can use pheromone traps to bait moths and prevent them from laying thousands of eggs on your pepper plant. 
2. Apply organic pesticide.
You can also use organic pesticides with Bacillus thuringiensis to kill fall armyworms. This bacterium produces a toxin that poisons the worm’s stomach when they eat it.

5. Black Cutworm

Black Cutworm
Image: University of Florida
Scientific NameAgrotis ipsilon
Common NameBlack Cutworm
How to Identify• Green, brown, gray or yellow bodies
• Curls to a “C” shape when threatened
What They Eat• Leaves
• Buds
• Stem
What You Should Do• Place cutworm collars.
• Apply diatomaceous earth.

Black cutworms have green, brown, gray or yellow bodies, known for curling up into a “C” shape when threatened. They come from the larvae of the turnip moth or the large yellow underwing usually laid on compost or mulch.

These cutworms love chewing on the leaves, stems and buds of pepper plants, but the most damaging effect it can do to a pepper plant is to cut them down to the ground. 

What You Should Do
1. Place cutworm collars.

Cutworm collars are barriers around the plant stem to protect them from infestation. They can be made on cardboard, foil or plastic, placed around the stem and buried in the soil to stay upright. 
2. Apply diatomaceous earth.
Diatomaceous earth is a fine powder coming from the fossilized remains of algae. When applied sprinkled to cutworms, it will cause dehydration and death. 

6. Pepper Maggot

Pepper Maggot
Image: Maryland Biodiversity
Scientific NameZonosemata electa
Common NamePepper Maggot
How to IdentifyHoles on fruits
What They EatFruit
What You Should DoUse bright yellow sticky traps.

Pepper maggots are larvae of flies that usually emerge from mid to late July. They commonly attack cherry peppers as they are attracted to their bright colors.

They lay eggs on the pepper fruit, which hatch into white, non-legged maggots. These pepper maggots will tunnel into the pepper fruits, eat their insides, and leave the pepper plant’s low-lying foliage with small holes. 

Because of this, pepper maggots can grow up to half an inch in just two weeks. Eventually, the pepper fruit will rot.

What You Should Do
Use bright yellow sticky traps.

Since pepper maggots attract bright colors, you can trap them with a bright yellow sticky card. Place the bright yellow sticky tape on a stake near your pepper plant.

7. Corn Earworm

Corn Earworm
Image: Purdue University
Scientific NameHelicoverpa zea
Common NameCorn earworm
How to Identify• Dark spots on the forewing
• Dark bands on hind wings
• Thorny micro spines
What They EatLeavesStems
What You Should DoUse pheromone traps.

Corn earworms come in different colors -yellow, green, brown, pink and black – with dark spots on their wings and thorny micro spines. They can grow up to 1.75 inches long and survive in winter soil. 

Despite having corn in its name, it’s not the only thing this earworm loves to eat. They will also eat the leaves and stems of pepper plants and other nightshade plants, such as tomatoes and potatoes. 

What You Should Do
Use pheromone traps.

As pheromone traps mimic the scent of female moths, the male moths are trapped and prevented from mating with female moths and the latter from laying eggs on the pepper plant.

How to Get Rid of Pepper Worms

Below are our proven and tested tips to keep pepper worms away from your plant and keep them healthy. Read on to apply these life hacks in your garden!

Sprinkle diatomaceous earth on pepper worms.

Sprinkle diatomaceous earth on pepper worms.
Image: Gardenia

Diatomaceous earth is a common gardening tool used to control pest infestations. It’s a white powder that came from the fossilized remains of algae. 

But don’t get fooled by this white powder because they’re actually sharp enough to pierce through the bodies of worms and insects as they come in contact with it. Once it pierces through them, the worms and insects will die from dehydration. 

When applying diatomaceous earth on your pepper plants, wear a mask to prevent irritation of your lungs. Now, all you have to do is to use the powder evenly around the base of your plant and repeat this every week.

Spray neem oil on pepper plants.

Spray neem oil on pepper plants.
Image: Morning Chores

Neem oil is another effective gardening tool to kill or repel pests and insects. It has a harsh scent that repels pests like aphids, flies, worms, caterpillars and snails. 

When pests smell neem oil on pepper plants, it will drive them away from it and look for other plants to eat. 

When you apply neem oil to your pepper plant, remember to wear a mask to protect your lungs from irritation and wash your hands thoroughly to avoid it spreading in your garden.

Place some ladybugs and wasps in your garden.

Place some ladybugs and wasps in your garden.
Image: Adirondack Almanack

Ladybugs and wasps are beneficial insects that can protect your pepper plant from pest infestations. They eat aphids and the eggs and larvae of other pests like beetles and caterpillars.

For instance, braconid wasps lay eggs on the body of a pest. Once it hatches, the wasp’s larvae will eat the pest to death.

Attract birds to your garden.

Attract birds to your garden.
Image: Birdfact

Birds are natural worm predators, so take advantage of their nature and make them feel welcome in your garden. 

You can install a birdbath to attract birds to drink and bathe or put our bird seeds to feed them. Once they’re done, they will naturally wander in your garden and hopefully catch those pepper worms. 

Another alternative is planting bird-friendly plants such as marigolds, nasturtiums and sunflowers, which birds love. These plants will not only give birds food and shelter and keep pests away from your garden. 

Till the soil.

Till the soil.
Image: Ignatian Spirituality

Many moth species survive the winter by hiding in the soil, compost or mulch. So, if you till the soil and disturb their home, there’s a high chance that their life cycle will be disrupted. 

Another benefit of tilling the soil is that it will keep them well-aerated and helps to remove those nutrient-sucking weeds on the ground.

However, tilling the soil is not advisable if earthworms are on the ground because it will only do more harm than good. Unlike pepper worm pests, earthworms are beneficial organisms that help improve soil quality and break down organic matter. 

Practice crop rotation.

Practice crop rotation.
Image: US Farmers and Ranchers in Action

Crop rotation is also an effective way to keep pepper worms out of your garden. All you have to do is not plant the same crop in different areas every year. 

As a result, the life cycle of these pepper worms and other pests, bacteria, viruses or fungi will be disrupted, leaving them with no host. 

For instance, if you planted pepper plants in your garden this year, then you cannot plant them in that same area next year. 

Alternatively, you can plant other non-nightshade crops like green beans, clovers, peanuts and peas. Crop rotation is also good for the soil since these plants can help restore nitrogen.

FAQs on Pepper Worms

Will hornworms eat peppers?

Hornworms will eat peppers and cause extensive damage to pepper plants. Most pepper worms devour entire leaves, stems and tunnel holes on the plants overnight. 

Is hornworm safe?

Hornworms are harmless to humans but are well-known pests to plants as they feed on their leaves, stems and fruits.

Do hornworms carry parasites?

Hornworms can carry parasites such as wasps and other insects. These wasps usually feed on the inside of the hornworm and cause their death.

Does salt get rid of maggots?

Salt is an effective way to get rid of maggots since they abhor salt. Excessive exposure of maggots to salt will cause their death.

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