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Tobacco Hornworms

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M. sexta can be purchased from Carolina Biological Supply Company as eggs, larvae (pack of 12, 25 or 50), and pupae (pack of 6).



Vials of larvae are shipped from Carolina with pre-made media in a container and newly hatched larvae are transferred to the vials. The amount of food is sufficient to carry the larva to its pupal stage. They will also sell food separately.

Tobacco hornworm food is also available in bulk from the Entomology Division of Bio-Serv. It does require some preparation, but is less expensive than Carolina's if you are using more than a few liters. We have used catalog #F9783 with success.



It is important to be extremely careful when handling the early instage larvae. We have found that you can use very light forceps to transfer them when necessary. We use "featherwieght forceps" from Ward's Natural Science Establishment (catalog # 14 W 0520).



A typical rearing temperature for M. sexta is 27oC. It is possible to rear larvae on a bench top by placing their containers approximately 25 cm from a 100 watt light bulb (instructions are provided by Carolina). Alternatively, an incubator or cabinet kept at around 27oC can be used. Temperatures above 32oC can kill the larvae.


Light cycle:

Light is also a factor in rearing the insects and a long day light regime (12+ hr) is required to keep the pupae from entering diapause (a dormant stage).


Flight cage for rearing adults:

A flight cage at least one cubic meter in size is necessary if you want moths to lay viable eggs. A simple flight cage can be made by stapling burlap over a wood frame. This provides a vertical surface for the moths to climb. You can also get a flight cage kit from Carolina. The moths only fly at night, so you will be able to open the cage during the day as necessary. A small, low-watt night-light above the cage is a good idea, so the moths can see to fly.



If you are keeping adults, a humidifier in the room is useful for keeping airborn wing scales to a minimum.


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July 1999