Not sure what’s destroying all your tomato plants? I’ve been there before. It’s not fun. Luckily, I’ve compiled a detailed list for you to identify what exactly is eating them and how you can protect them from such pests!
The 25 most common pests that eat tomato plants are:
- Cabbage loopers
- Tomato pinworms
- Tomato fruitworms
- Blister beetles
- Flea beetles
- Tortoise beetles
- Vegetable leafminers
- Root knot nematodes
- Stalk borers
Freshly grown tomatoes straight out of the garden just taste so much better than store-bought. Unfortunately, there are quite a lot of pests out there that agree.
To make it easier for you, I’ve created a table you can quickly look over to see what may be eating your tomato plants.
Tomato Plant Damage
Common Pests Causing It
Damaged Tomato Leaves and Fruit
Deformed Tomato Leaves and Fruit
Damaged Tomato Stems and Roots
There are 17 pests and animals that commonly eat the fruits and leaves of tomato plants:
- Cabbage loopers
- Tomato pinworms
- Tomato fruitworms
- Blister beetles
- Flea beetles
- Tortoise Beetles
It can be irritating to see both the leaves and fruits of your tomato plant attacked by bugs. Here are some of the most common pests that attack tomatoes and/or their leaves.
Cabbage loopers are green caterpillars that feed off of whole tomatoes and create holes in their leaves. These insects eat three times their weight daily once they mature and leave brown droppings on the tomato plants they inhabit.
While cabbage loopers prefer to attack cruciferous vegetables like cabbage, they do also attack other plants like spinach and tomatoes.
The cabbage looper is known to eat holes in the undersides of leaves and will eventually feast on nearby tomato fruits which, in turn, can reduce yield.
Oftentimes, cabbage loopers leave large piles of dark brown droppings, or frass, after feeding, so look closely for this!
Slugs can be seen after the rain and can be detected by their shiny layer of slime on damaged tomato plants. Tomato leaves eaten by slugs will have asymmetrical holes and tomato fruits will be burrowed into them.
They’re not particularly picky and will feed on a wide variety of things, including tomato plants. Slugs will leave a glossy layer of mucus on the tomato stems where they climb.
Left unchecked, they’ll quickly devastate tomato crops by burrowing into fruits and creating scraggly holes in the leaves.
Although slugs are typically nocturnal, you can spot these animals during the day after it rains since the environment becomes moist.
Read our detailed article on white slugs and how to remove them.
Snails use thousands of fine teeth to burrow into tomatoes and eat them. Tomato stems and leaves can also be consumed by snails during the night. Mucus trails confirm the presence of snails.
They are invertebrate animals just like slugs but have coiled shells on their backs for them to hide in. Similar to a slug, you should find a snail’s slime trails all over damaged plants if it’s the one eating your tomatoes.
Snails often feed at night, which is why damage is usually so severe in the morning once you finally notice them.
These common garden pests have thousands of microscopic teeth that they use like a saw to eat away at tomato leaves and dig into juicy fruit!
Tomatoes damaged by stinkbugs will have yellow marks and holes on the skin. Stinkbugs commonly fly into gardens to pierce tomatoes and suck out their juice. Although misshapen, these tomatoes are still edible.
Rather than digging into fruit, stinkbugs will sink their mouthparts into tomatoes to feed on the juices.
These flying insects will fly in and out of gardens and are challenging to control. They’re quite persistent and can attack the same fruit multiple times.
Damaged tomatoes will display golden spots on the skin where they were pierced and may turn yellow entirely. The injured tomatoes no longer look as appetizing but are safe to eat.
This damage is superficial, however, avoid touching stinkbugs as they may cause dermatitis.
The larvae of tomato pinworms can be found mining into tomatoes near the stem and creating dark blotches on infested leaves. Tomato pinworm larvae are typically brown and 1/3 inch long. If not controlled, they will eat and cause severe damage on tomato plants.
These tiny, but irritating, insects have a habit of feeding off of tomato leaves and fruits. They can be difficult to find at first but are sure to come out from underneath tomato leaves.
The winged adult moths of tomato pinworms lay eggs on tomato leaves, allowing the larvae to dig into nearby fruit and leaves.
When these tan 1/3-inch larvae finally hatch, they are especially damaging and can leave brown blotches on foliage as they continue to feed.
Tomato fruitworms can be found burrowing into tomatoes to feed on the fruit from the inside and complete larval development. The caterpillars are typically 1.5 inches, and have vertically striped brown, green, or black bodies.
Unfortunately, tomato fruitworms are very common in North America, so you may be familiar with this.
When they’re not eating leaf tissue, these pesky caterpillars leave darkened holes in tomato fruits and fill the inside of the tomato with their skin and feces. Because of this, they’re no longer safe to eat.
Not the most appetizing thing in the world, right?
You can identify the caterpillar larvae of tomato fruitworms by the stripes running lengthwise down their green, black, or brown bodies.
Blister beetles can consume large quantities of tomato leaves at once. Typical blister beetle damage can be seen on the edges of tomato leaves until they are completely eaten. These insects have a poisonous chemical named cantharidin that will cause blistering upon contact.
These winged insects can arrive overnight in large numbers to consume and strip tomato plants of all their leaves. Their larvae are also problematic and even attack bees!
Blister beetles are known to wreck entire fields of tomato plants and often eat tomato leaves through the edges and work their way inward.
Avoid touching or injuring blister beetles with your bare hands. True to their name, these beetles can cause your skin to blister with the use of poisonous compounds called cantharidin.
Flea beetles feed externally on tomato leaf surfaces and are most active on days without rain. Damaged tomato leaves have a sieve-like appearance and will eventually die from severe infestation.
These beetles are incredibly small. But you can usually spot them quite easily due to how shiny their black bodies are. They will also jump when disturbed, so watch out!
Adult flea beetles cause most of the damage to tomato plants by leaving dozens of small, irregular holes all over their foliage.
Flea beetles like to hide in the soil during the rain and will come out when it is dry and sunny to feed on tomato leaves.
Hornworm larvae are typically green and 4 inches long. They mainly eat tomato leaves but can also feed on green tomatoes. Bare tomato stems without leaves are a common sign of hornworm damage. A blacklight can be used to easily detect hornworms.
When you first see them, it might be difficult to tell hornworms and cabbage loopers apart. However, hornworms are much larger—they can measure up to 4 inches (10.16 cm) in length.
Hornworms can be identified through the eight white marks found on each side of their body.
Hornworms usually attack leaves on the upper part of the tomato plant. They will only eat more as they mature and will eventually leave the stems bare.
These caterpillars can also be found eating unripe tomatoes as well, although they eat more leaves than fruit. With the use of a blacklight, you can easily spot tomato hornworms at night.
Under a blacklight, hornworms have a different glow to them than tomato plants, so it’s easy to spot them.
Tomato leaves eaten by tortoise beetles will have irregular holes all over. However, it is rare for tortoise beetles to significantly harm or kill tomato plants unless there is a severe infestation.
These pests will either be cute or disgusting at first glance. It all depends on your personal preference.
Regardless of of how you see them though, tortoise beetles and their larvae feed on the underside of tomato foliage and will leave various circular holes all over them.
Such beetles can sometimes be seen using their own frass or feces as a disguise. It’s uncommon to find them in high numbers, so damage is usually not severe.
Tomatoes eaten and damaged by birds will have peck marks and will look torn. Ripe red tomatoes are commonly targeted by birds.
Birds may be some of the most common and troublesome pests for tomato plants. Mockingbirds, in particular, seem to be a regular nuisance in Texas.
You can tell tomato fruits are damaged by birds when they are pecked or eaten through.
It can be difficult at times to determine whether a bird or an insect has eaten from your tomatoes, especially when an insect crawls into the tomato once the bird is done.
So how can you tell the difference between bird damage and insect damage?
Birds can be messy eaters and will use their beaks to puncture and tear into tomato fruits. They often wait until the tomatoes are just about ready for harvest and can ruin overall tomato yields.
Deer are commonly known to eat ripened tomatoes and stems. However, they do not leave teeth marks on tomato plants that they have damaged. Hoof marks and deer droppings are a sign of deer attacks on plants in gardens.
Typically, deer are considered majestic creatures. But that is only true for most gardeners until they start chomping on your tomatoes.
You can tell your tomato plant has been damaged by deer when entire fruits and stems are missing. Deer do not have upper incisors and are known to not leave teeth marks.
If you have any plants growing on the ground or nearby, they may even be trampled into the ground or surrounded by hoof marks.
Learn how to combat deer in our article on plants that repel deer.
Mice can climb tomato plants to eat its fruits. However, mice favor low-hanging tomatoes due to them being easier to reach. Tomatoes attacked by wild mice contain harmful bacteria and should not be eaten.
It can be difficult to tell the difference between damage done by other hungry animals and the damage done by mice.
These animals are skilled and agile and are capable of climbing up your tomato plants, especially if there are trellises for them to use as support.
But lower hanging fruits are the most susceptible to mice attacks, as it is the easiest for them to reach.
Since mice and other rodents sometimes eat garbage, it’s not recommended to eat tomatoes that have been partially eaten by mice.
Humane mice traps can be set to confirm their presence without harming them.
Here’s a good mouse trap on Amazon that you can use both indoors and outdoors.
Ripened tomatoes will be eaten by possums directly off the vine. Possums are nocturnal and will bite into low-hanging tomatoes during the night.
An unfortunately popular nuisance in North America, Australia, Canada, and more, possums are known to attack tomatoes just as they turn ripe.
These nocturnal creatures have a tendency of eating lower tomatoes right on the vine and leaving them half-eaten.
During the summer, possums can become thirsty for water and will choose to eat juice-filled tomatoes instead.
You might find it useful to lay a bowl of water out for them to drink from rather than eat your tomatoes. However, this may only encourage them to return to your garden.
Rabbits have a large appetite and can eat through multiple tomato leaves, stems, and fruits. Tomato plants destroyed by rabbits will be cut sharply and will sometimes contain teeth marks.
A rabbit can attack tomato plants all year round and destroy entire gardens if left unchecked. Wild rabbits can sometimes even eat entire vines and branches overnight.
Rodents and squirrels are also known to gnaw on plants but rabbits tend to leave plants with clean cuts.
Another sure sign of their presence are pellet-like droppings, especially after a particularly large meal.
Raccoons are nocturnal and will eat both green and red tomatoes during the night. Knocked over trash bins within the property are also a sign of raccoons.
A raccoons will either bite the tomatoes as they hang on the vine or rip them away with its hands. Not even green and unripe tomatoes are safe from these animals!
They’re usually nocturnal but you might still see them during the day if they are especially desperate.
Raccoons are also known to dig through garbage, so keep an eye out for disturbed or knocked over trash cans in or around your house and garden.
Squirrels will frequently eat ripe tomatoes growing low on tomato plants. They could also return to the garden out of habit to feed on and attack other plants.
Both tree squirrels and ground squirrels tend to eat juicy tomatoes. Low-hanging ripe tomatoes are the most vulnerable to being eaten by these primarily terrestrial critters.
They can be a challenge to keep away once they’ve gotten a taste of what’s available.
Squirrels may not damage tomato plants severely but if they’re not controlled you could soon be competing with them for your own crops!
If squirrels are a common visitor for you, check out these plants that repel squirrels.
The 4 pests that eat tomato plants and cause deformed fruits and leaves are:
- Vegetable leafminers
Seeing leaf distortion and misshapen fruit is never fun, regardless of what plant it is. But don’t worry! Here’s a list of some of the pests that can cause this plant distortion for you to help identify the cause of such distortion.
Honeydew, hindered growth, and twisted, curled leaves are all signs that aphids are feeding on tomato plants. This is a result from aphids piercing into and sucking sap from leaves. Tomato plants can also be infected with diseases once fed on by aphids, as they are common carriers.
Aphids are small insects with soft bodies that are only 2–4 mm long. They can be found in a range of colors including green and red.
Honeydew is a surefire way to know if aphids have been feasting on your tomato plants. Severe aphid feeding can lead to poor plant growth and curled and yellow leaves.
They often favor younger growth where it is easier to feed from. Here, they will use their needle-like mouthparts to suck sap from the leaves and stems.
Aphids are also common vectors of plant diseases and could potentially cause a tomato plant to die. The tomatoes should be fine, as they are still safe to eat.
Thrip colonies will eat and damage tomato plants by extracting plant cells from leaves. This causes tomato leaves to distort. Thrips are also known to spread disease and can kill entire tomato plants.
These tiny insects feed by sucking out plant cells from the outer layer of leaf tissue. Some common signs of thrips on tomato plants include silver stippling of spots and papery leaves.
Thrips can reproduce at alarming rates in under 2 weeks, so get rid of them fast.
Over time, they can easily kill your tomato plant by injuring its much-needed foliage. Viruses like tomato spotted wilt are also more common due to the fact that thrips are common vectors.
>> Learn more in our article on the 6 effective ways to eliminate thrips.
Vegetable leafminers live between the epidermal layers of tomato leaves to feed. Chlorophyll is commonly consumed in the process, resulting in white looping patterns on the leaves. Severely infested tomato plants are more susceptible to damage from other insects such as aphids.
A vegetable leafminer is an insect that likes to feed on tomato plant tissue from inside the leaves.
You can tell your tomato plant has been attacked by vegetable leafminers when you spot seemingly random pale squiggles on tomato leaves. That is where they have fed.
They will often eat chlorophyll, the green pigment in plants, which causes the bizarre discoloration unique to vegetable leafminers.
Tomato plants are rarely killed by this insect. Repeated or severe infestations, however, could eventually weaken the plant and make it more vulnerable to other leaf-eating insects.
Whiteflies are 1–33-mm white, winged insects that extract and eat sap from tomato leaves, resulting in leaf distortion and stippling. Honeydew can also be spotted, which could lead to fungal colonies. Tomato plants will wilt and die from heavy feeding.
Tomato plants are one of the whiteflies’ favorite hosts.
The dry and stippled leaves damaged by whiteflies can look similar to other insect damage like thrips. But as the name suggests, these pests look like tiny white flies and are different from thrips.
Just like other sap-sucking insects, whiteflies pierce into leaves to suck out the sap and leaves lingering honeydew. This honeydew is also problematic and can lead to mold development in the tomato plant.
There are 4 common pests that eat the stems and roots of tomato plants:
- Root knot nematodes
- Stalk borers
You’ve checked your tomato plant thoroughly but still can’t find anything. But what if all the damage can only be seen in its roots or stems?
Look over this list of pests that frequently attack tomato roots and stems to see if it matches up!
Cutworm larvae are caterpillars that wrap around tomato stems and use their teeth to cut down the main tomato stems at the base. Tomato leaves and fruits can also be eaten by cutworms. These caterpillars are nocturnal and attack tomato plants at night.
These tenacious caterpillars have evolved to use their own method of cutting down entire tomato stems!
Once the tomato plant falls after being cut down, cutworms will feed on it during the night and will quickly hide in the debris when the sun comes.
Plants are usually cut at the base near the soil line. Tomato seedlings can sometimes disappear entirely when they are cut and dragged into burrows underground.
Cutworms may also burrow into tomato fruits and eat away at the leaves, making them extremely destructive.
Some simple plastic cups or wood caps surrounding the plant stem can help prevent cutworms from accessing the tomato plant to damage.
Root knot nematodes are worms that enter the roots of tomato plants to live in and feed on them. Tomato plants with root knot nematodes are more vulnerable to pathogens and less likely to absorb nutrients and moisture, leading to plant death.
It’s hard to detect these microscopic worms until it’s too late.
Above ground, infected tomato plants will start to wilt and become yellow. Underground, however, these worms will enter plant roots to feed on.
Tomato plants infested with root knot nematodes will look gnarly and have swollen knots.
Your tomato plants will also likely have a harder time absorbing water and nutrients—eventually wilting and becoming yellow.
These nematodes living in tomato roots will also make the plant more susceptible to root rot and Fusarium wilt.
Sudden death and wilting of tomato plants can be a result of stalk borers living and feeding inside plant stems. Hollowed-out stems will inhabit striped, stalk borer larvae, where the insect feeds off the inner stem tissue and slowly kills tomato plants.
If your tomato plants are wilting and dying for no apparent reason, it may be a good idea to check their stems.
Stalk borers will attack tomato plants at any stage of growth. Feeding off of tomato plants from the inside, the stalk borers will slowly kill them.
These cylindrical larvae of stalk borers can be found living inside these stems and burrowing their way to other parts of the plant.
A tomato plant that is already infected must be removed and burned to prevent the stalk borers from spreading to other plants.
Wireworm larvae live in the soil and feed on seedlings and the root systems of tomato plants. Confirm the presence of wireworms by placing a carrot or potato 3 inches into the soil where wireworms will find it to feed upon.
Especially active during the summer, wireworms can be found in the soil, feeding on roots and seedlings. Their larvae are yellow-brown and will have tough bodies.
An established tomato plant infested with wireworms will start to turn yellow and slow down in growth despite regular care.
If you’re unsure if you have this pest, potatoes and carrots can be buried 3 inches (7.62 cm) in the soil to attract wireworms and confirm their presence.
You can drop any wireworms you find in soapy water to eliminate them.
There are 5 natural ways to protect tomatoes without the use of synthetic chemicals:
- Physical removal
- Physical protection
- Predatory control
- Organic repellents
If you’re worried about the idea of using chemicals to protect your tomatoes, I got you. Here are some all-organic ways you can try to keep your tomatoes pest-free without the use of pesticide.
Small tomato pests like thrips, whiteflies, and aphids can be physically removed by hosingor washing them off of affected plants. However, these are not recommended for in-ground tomatoes as the bugs can easily climb back. Larger pests such as slugs, snails, and caterpillars can be manually picked off to prevent further damage.
If you’ve only spotted a few tiny insects, you can simply remove them from your tomato plant. This method requires the least amount of effort and is even easier for potted plants.
Moreover, if your tomatoes are in containers, you could easily hose the entire plant down to expel pests. This works well for sap-sucking insects like thrips, aphids, and whiteflies.
Hosing can also be done for tomatoes grown directly in the ground; however, the insects may fall onto other nearby plants or just climb back on.
Slugs, snails, tomato hornworms, and other large fruit-eating pests can be plucked when seen and then dropped into soapy buckets of water to kill them.
This method is especially effective when combined with a natural repellent, I’ll discuss in a bit.
Whole tomato plants can be protected using plant covers and fine netting. These will prevent winged insects and animals from reaching the plant. Tulle fabric or old leggings can be used to protect individual tomato fruits and ensure they are not disturbed as they grow.
This is a quick but effective way to protect your tomato plants in the long run. Depending on your situation, you can choose to cover your tomato plants entirely with the use of covers or netting.
Here’s the plant cover I typically recommend for protecting tomato plants.
Hungry animals and flying insects will not be able to access the tomato plant and will be forced to leave using these tools. But they also take up space, which can be limited, especially if you’re growing tomatoes indoors.
If you’re unable to protect the entire tomato plant, or if your tomato fruits are suffering the most, simply cover the tomatoes instead. You can wrap up your vulnerable tomatoes with the use of cheap tulle fabric or even old leggings!
Simply slip the fabric over the tomato so it’s completely covered and tie it off at the top. Birds, squirrels, deer, and even insects will not be able to penetrate the fabric to eat or destroy your tomato plants.
Just make sure the protective fabric is still sheer so that the tomato still receives adequate light.
Natural predators of pests can help protect tomato plants from browsing animals and large colonies of insects. Cats and dogs can help prevent animals like deer and mice, while predatory bugs can be used to consume insect populations on tomato plants. However, the use of predatory bugs is not allowed in some regions, like Canada.
If animals such as deer, rabbits, and mice are common visitors in your garden, consider using a pet dog or a cat to help scare them away.
Pesky tomato-eating animals are less likely to return once they smell the presence of potential predators or are chased by them.
For severe infestations of insects such as thrips, hornworms, aphids, and others that you just can’t seem to get rid of, there’s still hope.
Depending on what insect your tomato plants are infested with, you may be able to purchase other helpful bugs to eat the tomato-invading insects.
Chickens and lizards can also be helpful garden companions since they can consume many of the bugs that attack our plants. However, they may scratch, dig up, or damage certain plants, so beware.
Natural repellents can be a powerful way to control and prevent pests from eating tomato plants. A combination of neem oil, peppermint oil, and dishwashing liquid with water can be used to combat both insects and animals.
For a method that can deter multiple pests at once, consider using repellents.
You can use a combination of ingredients such as essential oils, castile soap, and even neem oil to prevent both animals and insects from feasting on your tomato plants.
Azadirachtin, the main active ingredient in neem oil, is known to eradicate and reduce insect growth, and feeding, and also serves as a deterrent for pests.
Gather the following ingredients:
- 1 tablespoon of neem oil
- 20 drops of peppermint essential oil
- 5 drops of castile soap or dishwashing liquid
- 1 gallon (3.79 L) of water
Once you’ve collected everything, mix up all of the ingredients together. This can be done through manual mixing in a container or just by shaking everything well in a spray bottle.
Regardless of what solution or repellent you choose to use, always do a leaf test before full application. If the tomato plant does not show any negative reactions after 6 hours, it’s safe.
Spray your infected tomato plants every 3 days during the night or early morning when there is no sunlight to prevent burning.
This solution should be able to reduce severe infestations and make the tomato plant and its fruit less appealing to rodents and other browsing animals.
Combined with the method of hosing or physical removal, this is an effective way to control insects on tomato plants and prevent them from being attacked again in the future!
Grow garlic and basil next to tomato plants to help repel cabbage loopers and caterpillars. Potted plants can be moved next to each other to confuse pests and shield vulnerable tomato plants.
The idea of using companion plants and intercropping has been around for years.
You can repel many pests including tomato hornworms and cabbage loopers by simply growing basil or garlic next to your tomato plants.
If you have a container garden, simply keep their pots close together to mask the smell of your tomato plant and protect it from harmful bugs.
Read more in our article on the best and worst companion plants for basil.
Chemical pesticides with pyrethrin are very effective in protecting tomato plants from being damaged by harmful insects and animals. Prevent pests from building resistance for these by using multiple pest controls. Then, remember to wash chemically treated tomatoes thoroughly before consumption.
Pyrethroid-based insecticides are some of the most effective solutions against tomato pests and do not require frequent application.
This will work for most of the insects mentioned above, like flea beetles and thrips. However, thrips and aphids are quick to develop resistance to singular pest management methods.
Because of this, it’s ideal to use multiple different pest controls and rotate them frequently to help prevent pests from building resistance.
This insecticide on Amazon is great for gardens and is what I would recommend to protect tomato plants.
What’s nice about using chemical-based pesticides like this is that they will also keep away hungry animals!
The only trouble is that your tomatoes will have to be washed thoroughly to ensure you don’t accidentally ingest any chemicals. But this is better than not having any tomatoes to harvest!
Do cats like tomatoes?
Cats can eat ripe tomatoes but will not actively attack tomato plants as they find the texture of tomatoes unpleasant. Cats will also avoid eating green and unripe tomatoes, which are toxic for them to eat. Adverse effects will include diarrhea, weakness, and confusion.
Do lizards eat tomatoes?
Lizards are mainly insectivores and are not known to attack tomato plants for their leaves, stems, or fruit. Instead, they will eat many of the bugs found in gardens and homes, which can be beneficial in controlling insects.
Tomato plants can be attacked by a wide range of pests. Insects that target tomato plants include cabbage loopers, stinkbugs, tomato pinworms, tomato fruitworms, blister beetles, flea beetles, hornworms, tortoise beetles, aphids, thrips, vegetable leafminers, whiteflies, root-knot nematodes, stalk borers, and wireworms.
Insects are not the only ones that attack tomato plants, however. Other pests include birds, deer, mice, rabbits, slugs, and squirrels. Some pests such as snails, cutworms, possums, and raccoons are nocturnal and only attack tomato plants at night.