Want a Goliath Worm for a Pet?

Goliath Worm or Tobacco Hornworm

Latin Name: Manduca sexta | For a fun activity check out our  FREE CRAZY Moth Coloring Pages.

San Diego Creature Goliath Worm
Goliath Worm

Would you keep a Goliath Worm as a pet? What if it turned into a moth with a wingspan of almost 4 inches, or 10 cm across its wings?

Goliath Worm Tomato Plant
Tomato from the plant where we found the Goliath Worm.

The Goliath Worm is sometimes kept as a pet by children throughout its range. We found this Goliath Worm on one of the tomato plants in our garden here in San Diego. It’s about 2 inches long now and could grow to be 2.8 in (7cm). We’ll keep it, feed it lots of tomato leaves, and see it turn into a Carolina Sphinx Moth before we let it go.  

That tomato plant, by the way, was grown from a seed. The seed came from a store bought tomato, that was in our refrigerator when the Covid-19 stay-at-home orders started.

Carolina Sphinx Moth Diagram
Carolina Sphinx Moth with an almost 4 in (10 cm) wingspan.

These guys also have a really cool defense – Toxic Halitosis or poisonous bad breath.

“Way before people started inhaling nicotine in cigarette smoke, plants were using the chemical to defend themselves from animals. Nicotine is a poison, and an exceptionally deadly one. It targets proteins that tell our muscles to fire when they receive signals from our nerves. At high enough doses of nicotine, these proteins force muscles to constantly contract, leading to paralysis and death. And since the same proteins are found in every animal with muscles, nicotine can kill cows and caterpillars alike.” – Ed Yong, National Geographic, 30 Dec. 2013

The Goliath Worm is also known as the Tobacco Hornworm because they can eat tobacco leaves. Scientists at the Max Planck Institute found that these creatures’ bodies take some of the nicotine in the tobacco leaves and sort of exhale it through their skin. When a spider goes to have a look at the Tobacco Hornworm it gets hit with poisonous air around the caterpillar and decides to eat something else.  

The Tobacco Hornworm turns into a Carolina sphinx moth, or tobacco hawk moth (as an adult). It’s closely related to and looks a lot like the Tomato Hornworm (Manduca quinquemaculata). Both kinds of caterpillars feed on tomato plants. You can tell them apart by the markings on their sides. Tomato Hornworms have eight V-shaped white markings with no borders, while Tobacco Hornworms have seven white diagonal lines with a black border. Also, Tobacco Hornworms have red horns, while Tomato Hornworms have dark blue or black horns.

Goliath Worm Sighting Map
Carolina Sphinx Moth sighting map

Goliath Worm Stats

Description: Goliath Worms or Tobacco Hornworms have seven white diagonal lines with a black border and red horns on their back end
Size: caterpillars grow up to 2.8 in (7cm)
Wingspan: 3.9 in (10 cm) (adult, moth)
Range: present through much of the American continent.
Diet: mostly tobacco leaves and tomatoes leaves (adult, moths are nectarivorous and feed on flowers)
Life cycle: Egg > Larva > Pre-pupa > Pupa > Adult (30 to 50 days)

Fascinating Fact:  Use a toxic halitosis defense 

Related Creatures

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Goliath Worm Sources

 http://entnemdept.ufl.edu/creatures/field/hornworm.htm (Retrieved 12Sep2020)
https://www.inaturalist.org/taxa/61505-Manduca-sexta (Retrieved 12Sep2020)
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Manduca_sexta  (Retrieved 12Sep2020)
https://www.pnas.org/content/early/2013/12/27/1314848111 (Retrieved 12Sep2020) Natural history-driven, plant-mediated RNAi-based study reveals CYP6B46’s role in a nicotine-mediated antipredator herbivore defense, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America.
https://www.nationalgeographic.com/science/phenomena/2013/12/30/toxic-halitosis-protects-tobacco-eating-caterpillar/ (Retrieved 12Sep2020)




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