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Help – What Is Eating My Tomatoes At Night? 11 Top Tomato Pests Revealed!

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Have you ever woken up in the morning, excited to harvest some juicy, ripe tomatoes from your garden, only to find them mysteriously nibbled on overnight? Believe me; I know how frustrating this situation can be! But how can you find out what is eating your tomatoes at night?

With some clever detective work, that’s how! With some careful investigation, you can uncover the mischievous creatures that dare feast on your beloved tomatoes under the cover of darkness.

Let’s dive into the mystery of the nocturnal tomato munchers!

What Is Eating My Tomatoes At Night?

During the day, our gardens are abundant with life. On a sunny summer’s day, we’ll see insects and birds everywhere, hopefully helping to keep our garden ecology in balance.

But what happens in your garden at night – does it all go quiet? Definitely not!

Under the moonlit sky, an array of animals emerge from the shadows, drawn to the tantalizing scent of our gardens. Nocturnal creatures seek out food under the cover of darkness, roaming freely through the entire garden.

But while many of these are hugely beneficial to our garden plants, some are also searching for a tasty snack. And, unfortunately, this might be your delicious ripe tomatoes!

In the morning light, as you inspect your garden beds, you might notice signs that animals have been venturing into your tomato paradise. But who are these sneaky intruders, and what do they seek?

Several common animals have a taste for tomatoes and may indulge in a tomato feast if given the opportunity. As some of these only visit your garden patch at night, it can be difficult to catch them in the act. But we can narrow down the suspect list considerably by looking for tell-tale signs. Let’s take a look at:

  1. Rabbits
  2. Rats
  3. Mice
  4. Raccoons
  5. Deer
  6. Tomato Hornworm
  7. Potato Beetle
  8. Flea Beetle
  9. Blister Beetle
  10. Slugs
  11. Snails

Do Rabbits Eat Tomatoes?

Rabbits are famous destroyers of vegetable patches, but do they have a taste for tomatoes too?

You bet they do!

This nocturnal animal won’t think twice about munching on any plump tomato fruit that is within its reach, leaving behind only nibbled remnants. They will sometimes also eat the foliage of tomato plants, although they tend to prefer brassicas and other leafy greens if available.

Signs of rabbit damage to tomato plants and fruits include tell-tale chunks missing from ripe tomatoes on the lower branches. They will also tear out large chunks of leaves, and you may spot rabbit droppings nearby.

Rabbit droppings in the garden
Rabbit droppings in the garden

So, how can you keep rabbits from eating your tomato plants?

To protect your juicy tomatoes, create a rabbit-proof fence of poultry wire. Ensure it’s at least two feet high to keep those hopping herbivores at bay. You can also sprinkle some cayenne pepper or garlic powder around your tomato plants as a natural deterrent.

Do Rats or Mice Eat Tomatoes?

House mouse snacking on a tomato
House mouse snacking on a tomato

As if rabbits weren’t enough, we also have to deal with sly rats and mischievous mice too. These cunning critters won’t hesitate to nibble on your prized tomatoes, leaving you with a trail of tiny teeth marks.

To catch these tomato thieves red-handed, we must search for clues left behind. The key sign is tiny teeth marks in any damaged tomato fruit – these will be hard to spot, so you’ll need to look closely.

Also, keep an eye out for tracks near your tomato plants. Rats and mice often leave tiny foot tracks that can lead us to the culprits responsible for our tomato woes.

Keep Rats Out of Your Garden

To protect your tomato plants from these crafty critters, remove any nearby hiding places. Rodents do not like open spaces and will forage for food as close to their nests as possible.

Protection around the plants themselves can be provided using fine wire mesh, bird netting, or shade cloth to create a barrier. Make sure to dig it into a shallow trench at the bottom, otherwise, rats and mice will just push their way underneath.

Do Raccoons Eat Tomatoes?

Raccoons have been known to raid vegetable gardens, including tomato plants, at night when they are more active.

To determine if raccoons are eating your tomatoes, look for broken or chewed leaves with jagged holes and half-eaten tomatoes. They might also dig around the plants, leaving distinctive paw prints in the process.

Grow & Give: Protect Your Garden From Animals - Raccoons

To prevent raccoons from eating your tomatoes, use fences or wire mesh to create a physical barrier that prevents raccoons from accessing the plants. Make sure the fence is sturdy and extends below ground level to prevent them from burrowing underneath.

Raccoons are cautious animals and can be frightened by unexpected sights, sounds, or movements. Install motion-activated bright lights, sprinklers, or wind chimes near your tomato plants.

Do Deer Eat Tomatoes?

White-tailed deer tracks in the muddy grass
White-tailed deer tracks in the muddy grass

Deer are known to graze on tomato vines and can quickly decimate your crop if not deterred. This browsing behavior tends to be more common in areas with high deer populations or when other food sources are scarce.

If deer have been through your garden, you will not doubt who the culprit is! They may graze on leaves, stems, or the entire plant, leaving considerable damage. Look for jagged or torn edges on the leaves and entire tomato fruits that have gone missing.

Deer typically feed on plants at a higher level than other animals. If you notice damage on taller parts of mature tomato plants, it could indicate deer activity. Deer also leave tell-tale hoof prints and will trample over other plants in search of their favorite food.

Use wire mesh or deer netting to create a physical barrier to prevent deer from eating your tomatoes. Consider using scare devices such as motion-activated lights, noise-making devices, or reflective materials in your garden to startle and deter them.

What Is the Most Common Pest In Tomatoes?

While we’ve found some sizeable nocturnal feeders that can eat your tomatoes at night, the culprit may be far smaller than you think! Never underestimate the damage that insects can do to your crop, especially if they arrive in large numbers.

Let’s take a look at some of the most common pests that could be laying waste to your tomato crop under the cover of darkness:

  1. Caterpillars (Such as the Tomato Hornworm)
  2. Beetles (Such as the Potato Beetle, Flea Beetle, and Blister Beetle)
  3. Slugs and snails

Caterpillars

Tomato hornworm eating a tomato plant
Tomato hornworm eating a tomato plant

Some caterpillars have a notorious appetite for tomato plants. One of the most common culprits is the tomato hornworm, which can munch on tomato leaves and even chew through the fruits themselves.

Tomato hornworms are large caterpillars that turn into hawkmoths. These moth larvae are named “hornworms” due to a horn-like protrusion on their posterior end, giving them their distinctive appearance. They have a smooth, green body, which blends in easily with the green foliage of tomato plants, making them tricky to spot unless you’re specifically looking for them.

Tomato hornworms typically start by eating large, irregular holes in the leaves. You may notice partially eaten leaves or leaf stems with jagged edges. These caterpillars can consume a significant amount of foliage, which weakens the plant and reduces its ability to produce fruits.

In addition to foliage, tomato hornworms will feed on the ripening fruit. They tend to target green tomatoes and can leave shallow gouges or chew marks on the surface.

Tomato hornworms produce dark green or black droppings, also known as frass, as they feed. Even if you can’t see the caterpillars themselves, these small pellets may be scattered on leaves or on the ground around the affected plants.

How Do I Keep Tomato Worms Off My Tomatoes?

When it comes to tomato hornworms, nature will lend a hand. Beneficial insects such as ladybugs and lacewings can help control hornworm populations. Preventive measures such as using row covers can help reduce the risk of infestation by tomato hornworms.

If you suspect tomato hornworms are causing damage to your tomato plants, it’s time to get the gloves on and go hunting! Handpicking the caterpillars off the plants is the most effective method to get rid of them, as they are large and relatively easy to spot.

Read more about companion plants for tomatoes to keep bugs away!

Beetles

Did you know there are around 350,000 known species of beetle? And while not all of these have a taste for tomatoes, some will happily have a munch on your plants overnight.

Potato Beetle

The Colorado potato beetle (Leptinotarsa decemlineata) - pest of potatoes and tomatoes
The Colorado potato beetle (Leptinotarsa decemlineata)

The notorious potato beetle, known for its fondness of devouring potato plants, also has a taste for our beloved tomatoes. When you remember that tomatoes are closely related to potatoes, this should be no surprise!

Potato beetles eat irregular holes in the foliage of tomato plants, often starting from the edges and working their way inward. The beetles and their larvae feed in parallel lines, creating long, narrow strips where they have consumed the leaf tissue. This striping pattern can be distinctive and helps differentiate their feeding from other pests.

To control potato beetle, regularly inspect your tomato plants and manually remove adult beetles and larvae from the foliage. A layer of mulch around tomato plants can make it more difficult for potato beetles to locate and access the plants.

Encourage the presence of natural predators in your garden, such as ladybugs, lacewings, and birds, as they feed on potato beetles and their larvae.

Flea Beetles

Potato flea beetle on a leaf showing characteristic feeding damage. Epitrix
Potato flea beetle on a leaf showing characteristic feeding damage

While flea beetles are primarily known for their affinity for leafy greens, they can also snack on tomato plants. These small, jumping beetles can cause tiny holes in tomato leaves, making them look pockmarked.

To keep flea beetles at bay, create a physical barrier using row covers or fine mesh netting. Remove any plant debris or weeds that may serve as shelter or food sources for flea beetles.

Consider planting companion plants, such as basil or marigolds, which can deter flea beetles with their intense aromas.

Blister Beetles

Black Blister Beetle on a Dandelion. Epicauta pennsylvanica
Black Blister Beetle on a Dandelion (Epicauta pennsylvanica).

Blister beetles are known to have a varied diet, and unfortunately, tomatoes are not exempt from their voracious appetites. These beetles can devour tomato leaves and even feed on ripe fruits, causing significant damage to your harvest.

The most effective way to get rid of blister beetles is by handpicking the beetles off your plants. However, remember to wear gloves – blister beetles can release a chemical substance that may cause skin irritation, hence the name!

There are a few different types of Blister Beetles. This website is an excellent resource for identification and guidance for tomato growers.

Slugs and Snails

Unfortunately, slugs and snails are known to have a fondness for tomatoes. These slimy creatures can leave silvery trails as they crawl along, and their feeding can result in irregular holes or chewed areas on tomato leaves and fruits. You can employ several methods to protect your tomatoes from these persistent pests.

  1. One approach is to create physical barriers around your tomato plants. You can encircle the base of each plant with copper tape, as slugs and snails are deterred by the electrical charge it produces.
  2. Another option is to place beer traps near your tomatoes. These traps, filled with beer, attract slugs and snails, causing them to drown.
  3. Additionally, consider removing any debris or hiding spots near your garden that may serve as havens for these creatures.

Tomatoes Being Eaten Overnight? Beneficial Insects to the Rescue

Not all insects are our enemies. In fact, only 1-3% of insect life can truly be considered a ‘pest,’ and even these have a role in the ecosystem!

Many insects, like ladybugs and lacewings, are nature’s secret agents, working stealthily to combat pests threatening our tomato crop. Inviting these beneficial insects into our garden creates a delicate balance, allowing the good bugs to keep the bad ones in check.

Here are some beneficial insects that are known to be effective natural predators of common tomato pests:

  • Ladybugs and their larvae feed on aphids, mites, and small insects that can infest tomato plants. They are voracious predators and can help keep aphid populations in check.
  • Lacewing larvae are often called “aphid lions” because they consume large numbers of aphids. They also prey on other soft-bodied insects like whiteflies, thrips, and small caterpillars that can infest tomatoes.
  • Hoverfly larvae are effective predators of aphids. They also feed on other soft-bodied insects and can help control pests in the tomato garden.
  • Parasitic wasps are beneficial for controlling caterpillar pests such as tomato hornworms. The female wasps lay their eggs inside the caterpillars, and the wasp larvae eventually kill the host caterpillars.
  • Minute pirate bugs feed on many pests, including aphids, thrips, spider mites, and small caterpillars. They are beneficial allies in managing pest populations on tomato plants.
  • Ground beetles are nocturnal predators that feed on slugs, snails, cutworms, and other soil-dwelling pests.

Do Leaf Cutter Bees Eat Tomatoes?

Alfalfa leafcutter bee (Megachile rotundata)
Alfalfa leafcutter bee (Megachile rotundata)

While leaf-cutter bees may sound ominous, they are not typically interested in eating your tomatoes. Unlike the tomato-loving pests we discussed earlier, leafcutter bees do not chew on tomato leaves or fruits. Instead, they use sections of leaves to construct their nests. These industrious bees can cut neat, circular pieces out of leaves, but they do not directly threaten your tomato plants.

Leaf-cutting bees are actually beneficial pollinators, playing a crucial role in plant reproduction. They help ensure the success of your tomato crop by aiding in the transfer of pollen from flower to flower.

So, if you spot leafcutter bees buzzing around your garden, there’s no need to worry about them dining on your tomatoes. Instead, please sit back and appreciate their incredible construction skills!

Which animals or insects are eating your tomato plants at night? Have you identified the culprit? Let us know in the comments below!

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