Diseases and pests are always potential problems whenever we are planting crops of any kind. Tomatoes, specifically, are quite vulnerable to many different plant diseases and harmful organisms.
One such problem is a pest we call the tomato pinworm. It affects all tomatoes and, recently, has been a huge problem within the agricultural world.
Fortunately, the problem is not something new. Hence, it has been documented already for a long time and ways to control the pest has long appeared as well.
You can learn more on tomato pinworm control as we go along the article and discuss all of what you need to know about them.
What is Tomato Pinworm?
Tomato pinworm, with a scientific name of Keiferia lycopersicella, is a type of worm that feasts on leaves and fruits of tomato plants.
In the University of California’s Integrated Pest Management’s website, they have described the tomato pinworms in great detail. To summarize their characteristics, they are like other insects in that they also physically transform and develop into many different stages in their lives.
The females will lay their eggs on the leaves of the tomato plants. These eggs will hatch and form into a small caterpillar. The caterpillar will grow larger until they pupate and eventually turn into a moth.
Tomato pinworms were actually more common to the southern parts of America, alongside leaf miners, black worms on tomatoes, and other pests. However, recently, the outbreak has spread to the northern parts as well. Therefore, it is best to take precautions regardless of where you are located.
Aside from these pests, you should probably be wary of early and late blight as well. These two problems are quite common nowadays.
Read more: Blight on Tomatoes
How Much Damage Does Tomato Pinworms Do?
Pinworms in tomatoes are certainly not good but you if you are inexperienced with it, you may not know just how much it can damage your tomatoes.
Damage to the foliage
Basically, tomato pinworms mainly affect the leaves and fruits of the tomato plants. Usually, the damage to the leaves is not exactly too threatening to the plant since a few parasites can barely do anything. However, the problem is when they multiply out of control.
In just a year, there can be multiple overlapping generations of tomato pinworms. If, at the start, the numbers are still manageable, the longer it goes on without being treated, the worse it can get for your plants.
Once the number of tomato pinworms gets too severe, all of your tomatoes may suffer from too much foliage damage which may result in death. This is why you should treat any signs of such pests immediately upon recognition.
Damage to the leaves
While the damage to the tomato plants’ leaves is minimal when the infection is still starting, the same cannot be said for the fruits. Each pinworm that survives can ruin an otherwise perfectly healthy fruit.
These pinworms will drill into the fruits and feed on them for a long time. Once they grow enough, they will leave the fruit but leave behind rotting parts. For farmers who grow tomatoes for a living, this is especially devastating.
The good news is that the tomato pinworms do not typically infect the fruits immediately. They will only do so once they grow into the later parts of their ‘caterpillar phase’ and are ready to pupate. Therefore, if you spot the infection immediately, you can apply some pesticides to the plant and salvage the situation.
How to Spot Tomato Pinworms
Tomato Pinworms have different life stages. Subsequently, they also affect plants in different ways.
You can spot these pests as early as their ‘egg stage’ if you are particularly observant, or if you happen to catch them by coincidence. The eggs of tomato pinworms are white and very small. Fortunately, they do grow in clusters so it makes them at least a bit easier to recognize.
Once they hatch and reach their larval stage, they will resemble very tiny blackish caterpillars with some dark stripes. They will still be quite tiny so spotting them will be as hard as ever. These tiny caterpillars will grow until they are ready to go to their pupation stage.
Tomato pinworms in their larval form actually make their presence known due to the large white blotches that they leave in the plants’ foliage.
You may also recognize pinworm-infected fruits due to the brown holes that appear in their skin. However, sometimes the tomato pinworms start to infect the fruits while they are still tiny. In these cases, spotting the holes made by these caterpillars will be a lot harder.
Pupal and Adult Stages
Once they reach their pupal stage, they will form a brownish cocoon. You will usually find these cocoons in relatively hidden areas in the plant’s foliage. In some cases, the tomato pinworm will undergo this stage inside the fruits.
Finally, once the pupal stage is over, the pests will emerge from their cocoons and will resemble gray-colored moths. The moths’ sole responsibility is to find a mate to reproduce with and lay eggs to the leaves thereafter. Thus, the life cycle continues until you disturb it in some way.
How to Prevent and Treat Tomato Pinworms
Treating pinworms on tomatoes is not easy at all. This is especially true when they really grow and drill into the tomato fruits. An even worse scenario is if these worms develop into adults and start to breed their subsequent generations. When this happens, more drastic measures may be necessary.
Fortunately, there are also methods in trying to prevent the tomato pinworms from infecting your plants in the first place.
In this section, we discuss both the ways in preventing the pinworms and also the ways of treating them.
Make sure the soil is pinworm-free
One thing to be extremely careful of is your compost pile.
Usually, bodies of dead plants will be sent to the compost pile. The problem arises when these dead bodies are actually infected with the eggs or larvae of tomato pinworms. If they indeed are, this compost pile will only harm your tomato plants and infect them with the said pests.
Furthermore, you should be extra careful whenever you are cultivating tomatoes in growing rings. Since ring culture relies on compost for the nutrition of the tomato plant, infested compost will only bring disaster.
Read more: Tomato growing rings
An alternative to using compost is to simply use reliable store-bought fertilizers. Although their uses are slightly different, they both do help the tomato plant overall. This way, the plant is less exposed to any possible soil contamination.
Read more: Best fertilizer for tomatoes
Make sure your seeds and seedlings are healthy
Even if your soil is pinworm-free, the seedlings may not be.
One of the most common assumptions as to why these pinworms are spreading as much as they do right now is that that infected tomato plants are being transplanted and transported into various areas.
No number of pinworm prevention methods will help your plants if they are already infected from the get-go. Therefore, the first thing you have to make sure is that the plants you are cultivating are free from these pests in the first place.
One way to ensure that the tomatoes are devoid of insects is to ask around for any reported case of pinworms in your area. If there are none, then you should buy from your local store. Otherwise, you can order them from another place.
A more surefire way to do this is to simply use the seeds from healthy tomatoes that you already cultivated beforehand. Heirloom tomatoes are great for this purpose. Their seeds are largely reusable, and they resemble their parent plants very well.
Learn more: Heirloom Tomato Seeds
Grow your tomatoes indoors
If you are not planting tomatoes in massive numbers, you can plant them indoors instead. By doing so, you can control their environment easier, and they should be less exposed to harmful insects. This will require some effort, but it also has many benefits.
Learn more: Growing Tomatoes Indoors
If you failed in preventing the tomato pinworms from affecting your plant, using pesticides may be your next best move. These can kill the pinworms in their larvae stage to prevent them from growing.
Unfortunately, insects that have burrowed into the fruits may be affected less. Therefore, it is best to eliminate the threat as early as possible. If your plants show any signs of pinworm infestation, use pesticides or insecticides immediately.
Abamectin-based pesticides should serve you nicely. They specifically target leaf miners, tomato pinworms, and various kinds of aphids. They are your best choice since they only affect a small number of organisms, and subsequently, do not disrupt the local ecosystem in your area.
More wide-ranged insecticides may be necessary in severe cases, but they may also harm beneficial organisms so their use is not recommended.
Using Pheromone Traps
If you are not familiar with the term, pheromone traps are traps used to attract and capture insects. These pheromone traps work by spreading out pheromones – a substance secreted by insects to communicate with each other.
By releasing the pheromones, insects are tricked and attracted to the trap. The trap then captures the insects preventing them from breeding additional generations of pinworms.
If you have confirmed that your tomato plants are infected with tomato pinworms, you can use pheromone traps alongside the pesticides.
If you are growing your tomato plants in a small backyard, only one pheromone trap is necessary. However, if you are cultivating tomatoes in a large field, you may require multiple traps that are spread out.
Pheromone Mating Disruption
Aside from capturing the insects, you can also use sprays and other solutions to disrupt the insects from mating. By dispersing the pheromones everywhere, the insects will get confused and will fail from finding other insects of the opposite sex.
The problem with this method is that it does not prevent fertilized females from laying eggs in your plants. Females that mated somewhere else can simply travel to your area. Disrupting them from mating will do nothing if they have already mated beforehand.
This is why it still is recommended to use pesticides alongside other treatment methods.
Have a Planting Hiatus
If the infestation is already too much and you are not dependent on your plants for a living, one thing you can do is to simply stop planting tomatoes for a while. All the pinworms will eventually die off if the adults do not have any tomato plants to lay their eggs on.
Recommended Products against Infestation of Pinworms on Tomatoes
Since pinworms on tomatoes are hard to get rid of, here are some products to help you out in your battle against these pests.
We recommend these products due to their usefulness and quality.
1. Avid 0.15 Ec Insecticide (2% Abamectin)
The first product we would like to recommend is a pesticide that has Abamectin as its active ingredient. It is one of the highest-rated Abamectin-based products and is, therefore, useful against tomato pinworm infestations.
As mentioned before, using Abamectin as an agent is recommended. The Avid 0.15 Ec Insecticide uses 2% of this substance in the composition of the pesticide. This amount is enough to be useful, but also not too much that it will affect humans negatively.
A bottle of this Avid insecticide only contains 8 fl. oz. of the substance, but it should not cost more than $100.
2. Ardent 0.15EC Insecticide
This pesticide from Ardent is similar to Avid’s. It is also based in Abamectin and one bottle has 2% of the substance in it.
The biggest difference between the two is their packaging. A bottle of Ardent pesticide contains 32 fl. oz. while costing around $150. Considering its content to price ratio, the Ardent 0.15EC Insecticide should be much more economical.
3. Exponent Insecticide Synergist
The final product in this list is slightly different from the rest. While the others are based on Abamectin, the Exponent Insecticide Synergist largely consists of Piperonyl Butoxide. Furthermore, the product is actually not an insecticide on its own.
Piperonyl Butoxide is known for its synergistic properties with pesticide agents. If you mix it with another pesticide, the resulting mixture will fight pests better. In other words, Piperonyl Butoxide is used to enhance the effects of pesticides.
If you mix this with any of the Abamectin-based products above, it should be potent enough to deal with your tomato pinworm problems.
Tomato pinworms are a huge problem for tomato cultivators nowadays. Fortunately, you can help yourself in avoiding them. If you just follow the correct precautions in tomato pinworm control, you should be able to deal with these pests. May you grow your tomatoes in the healthiest way possible!