Watch My Food Grow ~ A South Florida Raised Vegetable Garden

Florida Backyard Raised Vegetable Garden

What is Eating My Backyard Garden Tomatoes

February 24th, 2009 by Matthew Steinhoff

What is eating my tomatoes?Something has been taking bites out of my tomatoes.

I’ll give you a dollar if you can correctly identify what is eating my tomatoes and give me a plan to catch the perpetrator.

I’m not looking for a preventative solution. I want to catch whatever has been attacking my tomatoes. I want vengeance.

List of Low-Probability Animals

We have never seen a raccoon or opossum in our neighborhood, let alone our back yard. In three years, I have seen exactly one squirrel.

We do have a few neighborhood cats who spend time in our back yard (and on our roof) but I have never seen them look at the tomatoes. They are always more interested in the birds hanging out near our bird feeder.

There have not been any footprints in or around our backyard raised vegetable garden.

Birds Possible Vegetable Thieves

Birds are high on my suspect list.

I keep fairly close watch on the live vegetable garden camera. So far, I haven’t seen any birds in the garden but that doesn’t mean they are innocent.

We have a bird feeder in the back yard and it isn’t unusual to see 50 to 75 birds sitting on the power lines behind the house, above the vegetable garden.

Please Identify My Garden Pests and Vegetable Thieves

Once again, if you can identify the animal or insect that is eating my tomatoes, please let me know.

—Farmer Matt

Tags: 62 Comments

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62 responses so far ↓

  • Like you, I have been glued to your webcam trying to scope out the culprit attacking your tomatoes.

    I’m not sure, but I thought I saw a white, ghost-like figure in a couple of frames. (If you increased your frame rate, it might be easier to confirm my suspicisions.)

    About the only thing that would that white this time of year would be your uncle in St. Louis.

    You already know he’s a tool of the MegaMart food industry. I wouldn’t put it past them to slip him down here in the dead of night to nip at your tomatoes to discourage home gardeners.

    Let’s call his neighbors and see if he’s still in St. Louis.

  • BTW, when my home construction project is finished, I’ll have about a third or half a roll of 30-lb tar paper up for grabs.

    Would that make a good base to keep weeds out of your garden when you expand it?

    • Thanks for thinking of me.

      The weed control cloth has to be porous enough to allow water to drain. Otherwise, your raised vegetable garden becomes a swimming pool. So, I’m afraid that the tar paper will be of no use to me.

      —Farmer Matt

      • NO! to tar paper in the garden. Can you say toxic??
        Tar = creosode = poison to humans. Though I had a bricklayer who was remodeling my house in Lauderdale and made chicken in the tarpit. I’ll do a blogpost on that, I think.

  • Shotgun or ice pick (not to go after your uncle, for the tar paper).

  • I believe it’s birds. Looks like a beaked creature has been poking your devil fruit. Because you know, tomatoes ARE the fruit of the devil. =)

  • Matt,

    The same critter has been nibbling my tomatoes, all the way down in Coral Springs! It is discriminating; however, choosing only to nibble on fruit 2 days from being picked. I’ll be watching your camera, too, in the future. I pitched more last season than we put on the table. Planted 3 upside down in 5 gal buckets under the pool screen. Safe from the enemy!

  • FYI – My tomato plants are way high up in a planter and I have the same teltale evidence – Has to be a bird because those are the only critters who could be getting at my tomatoes and my damage looks EXACTLY like yours . Can you say “beebee gun?” 🙂

  • Well whatever has been eating your tomatoes is in Fort Worth, Texas eating mine – in fact they ate my first ripe tomato this year! Like one blogger said, the tomatoes are perfect, start to turn color and then wham! – I come home at night to pick them and it looks like someone literally took a bite out of the side of the tomato.

  • I have the same shape holes in my tomatoes. Only one per tomato, just enough to let ants and rot into the tomato. I live in Maryland. Please let me know if you get real info on this. Thanks.

    • I have the same issue. One bite. As soon as they are near ripe. Only one bite per tomato. I HAVE cut off the bite and eaten the tomato, but it disturbs me. I would love to kill the birds or rodents (rats, mice, squirrels) who are stealing my crop.

  • as odd as it may sound ,look for signs of slugs[snails] go out later in the evening and you might be surprised.i have caught them in the act.believe it or not.

  • Slugs ate my early girls, the bush is close to the ground but now something is taking my greem heirlooms, nibbling half of them away and leaving them somewhere in the garden, they also take the small to med green tomatoes of the stalk and scatter them around.
    I am totally frustrated, what can i do…..i am not into killing!

  • Here in San Jose, California, the same story. Only when the tomato turns ripe, something is eating them.
    I put netting over all the plants thinking it was a rat, but it has made no difference at all. However is is clear it is not a bird, the netting would have stopped them.
    My latest suspicion is lizards. I am watching one right now close to a section of the tomato that was eaten and I cut off. They are very wary but are in no hurry.
    Anyone else had lizards eating their tomatoes?
    Will keep you posted.

  • well guess what this mysterious creature has arrived in my back yard as well in San Jose CA its driving me nuts only chooses the largest and most near picking, for some reason leaves my pear tomatoes alone. I have yet to get a ripe beautiful Roma. I have been picking early before it gets them

  • Whatever it is, it has made it’s way up to Milwaukee, WI! I waited paitently all summer for some tomatoes and now the three I’ve had ripen have been chomped! I took on to Steins (garden store) and they said maybe insects. I spent the $15 on organic spray that attaches to the hose, used it yesterday, came out to check this morning and realized I lost another one 🙁 Because of how my plants are, there’s no way I’m dealing with birds; we have very few little critters in the area; and we certainly don’t have lizards. Any ideas??

    • We think the perpetrator may be a rat, I googled this subject and rats do eat tomatoes. I did leave the tomatoes out that it chomped sliced them up and it ate those and left the ones one the vine alone

  • What?? All this and no answers? I have lived in NV a long time and never had this problem before. My previous home had NO grass..but had squirrels, lizards and I am assuming no to any of them. Mine will eat green, red, doesn’t matter and is cleaning out petunias and anything green I plant, when it is tender and young and then leaves it alone. This is killin me! It carrys them off and scatters them around – so it isn’t a lizard or bird. Anyone have marmots?

  • Still nothing? we have been reading this awaiting an answer. We will throw another dollar in the kitty if someone can figure it out. The interesting thing about our two plants is that they are both at least a foot off the ground in Topsy Turveys. We are in San Diego – put netting on them a week ago, still eating the green ones. We have found several tomato (horn) worms on both of our plants, but they only seem to eat leaves, right? Our friend told to spray a hydrogen peroxide mixture on the plants for pests and mildew. We will try that next.

  • How Funny, mine too. I was going to search “who is mutilating my tomatoes” but I thought nothing would come up. All of us with the same issue though, all around the country, with no answers. Reminds me of crop circles..very suspicious

    • I live in Oceanside (San Diego county) and have same problem. Thought it was birds at first too. I think that I found the culpit(s). This is the best way that I can describe them. The head of a large ant with pincher at the mouth, the body of a caterpillar, and legs of a centipede but only in the first quarter of the body. It drags it’s butt. I took a picture with my phone and I’d upload it but I don’t see how. I found several of them fairly deep in the soil as if they were born there. Biggest was about half the length of my pinky. I can’t find any images of it anywhere on the web. It’s not the horned caterpillar.

  • Brad – I’m dying to see what yours looks like – can you just email me a photo? — Or perhaps Brad can send to Matt and you can upload for all to see?

    we got some nasty bites out of one of our tomatoes just yesterday and think it was a rabbit who jumped up to the topsy turvey. (took photos)

    We saw evidence of additional horn worms, but couldnt find them. We bought BT Bacillus thuringiensis and used a few drops in a quart sprayer and instantly found two VERY unhappy hornworms squirming. I would recommend this safe product to everyone.

    The tomato season here in San Diego is going, but definitely seeing a slow down, so we don’t have too much time yet.

  • I’m in Oceanside too and have the same problem. However, I have a slug trap near the base of my tomatoe plants. One morning when I went out, there were tomatoe skins on top of the trap, like something gorged itself on my ripe tomatoes and then threw up on top of my trap, like it was rubbing it in my face.

    Brad, it sounds like you are describing a potato bug. Is that what you found?

    • I haven’t found any potato bugs. I systematically dismembered, leaf by leaf, one of my plants, sacrificing it for the greater good, and found several bugs I’ve never seen before…most interesting were the brown widow’s, some things that looked like mini preying mantis and something the pest control guy had never seen…crustacean like guys with fairly nasty spikes. They hung out on the stems with ants around them so I thought they were aphids at first but further researched proved that they certainly weren’t. NO caterpillars however, which I am sure are the culprits.

      One day I picked up a fallen tomato and on the other side was a small brown caterpillar, with a black dot on either side of it’s head and teal stripes running down the sides, chomping away. The hole he created was impressive for a little guy, a larger one could have easily done the damage in the photos above. On a different tomato plant I did find a cocoon of a large caterpillar, about half the size of my pinky. No doubt that guy could have been the cause of my damage. He was dead and grey so I don’t know what color he was before he bit the dust. No damage found after that.
      Last, I did find 6 green caterpillars on my cabbage, which is planted in the row next to my tomatoes, I suppose they could have made pilgrimages but I doubt it, they seem content with the cabbage based on the damage.
      We’ve recently found two brown widows in the house, which is strange for those types of spiders, and one in my 9 month olds bedroom! We yanked everything out, sprayed and called it a year. Until spring my friends, happy hunting.

  • Here in Colorado someone just told me they lost all their tomatoes this year to…wait for it…Grasshopers!

    Could this be the culprit?

  • It is almost certainly chipmunks. Chipmunks will sell their souls for a ripe tomato if they have ever had one. They typically eat the bottoms out of the lower ones but will climb as high as necessary.

    Fake owls and snakes are of no help. Chipmunks will risk anything to get a ripe tomato.

    I only had 20 plants but was dismayed that all the bottom tomatoes had their bottoms eaten out the day they became ripe. I put out a couple of Have-A-Heart traps (wire cage with trapdoors at each end).

    Don’t bother with peanut butter on apples etc. No self-respecting chipmunk will go for that if ripe tomatoes are nearby. Cut up the ones they have already damaged and use that as bait. I trapped 12 in 10 days and then was able to eat tomatoes without worry that they would beat me to them. I was hauling them off every morning seemingly w/o end, but they eventually ran out of replacements.

    I took them to a nearby park and released them in the same spot, 1 or 2 a day. Nearby means at least a mile or two away. Check the traps every morning or risk them suffering sunstroke.


  • Chipmunks! What about squirrels? I’ve got a couple of them in my back yard, do they like Tomatoes?

  • WOW, this conversation had undoubtedly gone on for years! Good to know I’m not the only one dumbfounded by the mystery of what is eating a large chunk out of our “almost-ready-to-pick” tomatoes. After reading all the comments I have deduced that certainly location is specific to what type of animals & insects reside there. Though one common animal know to wreak havoc throughout the world’s agriculture is….yup you guessed it, rats. That is the only animal they makes sense, since here in South Florida we have lots of them though have none of the other unusual insects mentioned before. I can see the garden from my kitchen window (during the day) & can rule out most of the usual suspects. The birds don’t even mess with the tomatoes & the only insects found in my tomato patch are the fruit fly’s that come in after the giant hole has been munched open. It is such a shame that my giant Black from Tula tomatoes get to be enjoyed by something other than myself. Though maybe someone could offer some advice here, if the section eaten out of the tomato isn’t too big couldn’t I just cut that part out & save the rest? 🙂 I am still determined to crack this caper! LOL

  • I have the same issue. First time this has happened here and i could not figure out what was eating chinks out of my ripe tomatoes. Just a day before time to pick and then something literally takes a big bite of the tomato. I have scoured for bugs, I thought maybe it was grasshoppers… something that can get away quick because it has happened in a matter of minutes that a tomato I spied as ready for my salad that night gets chewed on before I could pick it less than an hour later…. what could be running or flying into the garden so quick…. and then i saw one of the last responses here…. chipmunks. In the last year or two I have had chipmunks take up in the wood pile. I see them every once in a while out the bathroom window. So fo now, I’m going with chipmunks. Mostly because, I out so much insecticide on the plants that only a mammal could live through eating one of those tomatoes without washing it.

  • I started reading this thread with an open mind about what might have eaten my tomatoes. I have a handful of plants in large concrete planters in my small, fenced in townhouse yard in Virginia. The chipmunk answer resonates. It’s the only non avian critter ive seen hanging out by my planters. I’m ready to round up a posse and bring him to justice. Who’s in?

  • I’m glad people are trying to puzzle this out. Now in another year, it is happening Again. I’m leaning toward birds. However I don’t get why they just take one small bite, which is enought to let in ants.

  • WOW, here I am in Central Bucks County , PA… I broke my already damaged back. Age 66, to put in this vegetable garden on my hustbands farm. Fenced in. Yep….yet every ripe or partial ripe tomatoe is bitten into. Even the grape size, the small cherry tomatos…. my pear shaped are slightly touched. I am so Bumbed out. All this work for NOTHING; My husband put a critter trap inside the garden with tomatoes in it….Still eating my tomatoes on the vine. NEVER…before….WHAT IS THIS? Going to try to put the trap outside. We can’t find any prints or holes dug either. HELP!

    • I posted last year about something eating my tomatoes & finally got it figured out! We had little mice eating them! I caught them in the act! We trapped them & had no more problems! Good luck!

  • i know this sounds sill but it has worked for me…a plastic bag loosly on a steak so it can move in the slightest breeze scares away most critters…also try hanging some red christmas balls as the birds wil try them and give up…dont use them in a sald tho…never works.

    • I will give your suggestion a try. Sounds a little like what my grandmother used to do. She tied light-weight aluminum pie plates (the kind store-bought pies came in) to a string on a pole. The wind blew them around fairly easily, too.

  • I have positive ID that my almost ready to pick Tomatoes are being eat by chipmunks.
    Now what to do?….Chipmunk genocide is not an option, maybe trapping them and relocation may work, or a couple of outdoors hungry cats may keep them away from my crop.

  • My guess is chipmunks. We have the same issue here in Ct. .177 cal pellet gun has taken care of this problem so far. You need a lot of patience and a fairly good aim as these critters are fast on their feet.

  • 2 yrs later….any other positive ID on the tomato eater?

    • Squirrels – last year I trapped & relocated 10 squirrels & 1 chipmunk – problem solved . No more tomato damage. Now, this year, something is eating roots of eggplants. Any ideas?

      • I thought i was out of the woods this year when I pulled some undamaged tomatoes off my vines, but I just picked four tomatoes, each with one mark. The holes are exactly the same as the ones pictured. We don’t have chipmunks and mice don’t really make sense because they are in places on the tomatoes that a mouse would be hard put to get to (bottom of a dangling tomato) with nothing near it. We have never seen any sign of rats.

        Looking at these posts from all over the US, it makes sense that there are different things going on. Some people are talking about something eating their tomatoes. That seems to be a different critter. These are simply bites.

        I’m going for birds. I saw a couple of different ones skulking around my garden with guilty looks on their beaks. It looks like it’s time to act if I want any whole tomatoes. I’m starting with some shiny objects, such as old cds. If I don’t see a change, I’ll go for netting.
        I’ll check back with a report.

  • Squirrels i saw them eat a 4″ tomatoes and a green pepper and pears and apples.

  • It has to be squirrels. We have fenced sides and tops of our tomatoes thinking birds were the culprit. The bites are still happening. Squirrels can crawl underneath the fencing, take one bite, and be off…to another yard…I hope…

  • I have 2 potted tomatoes plants. One tomato was finally turning red when I saw something was eating it. I thought it was a squirrel or some kind of rodent because it seemed it was eating it at night. I was looking out the door (during the daytime) at the plant and I caught a chipmunk inside the pot eating the tomatoes. Because they are in pots I brought it inside and placed it in front of the French door so it could get the sun. So, yes, even those cute little chipmunk’s are rodents and will eat your tomatoes.

  • turtles are eating the tomatoes

    • Very funny about the turtles. I’ve concluded that it is birds. The single triangular hole is too much like a beak to be anything else. This year, I’ve finally gone ahead and purchased some bird netting. I expect no more destroyed tomatoes.
      BTW, I have no idea what kind of bird. I am mid atlantic with a wide variety of them. I don’t really care, as long as I get to eat fresh tomatoes out of my garden.
      I’ll post how well the netting works.

  • I have same problem with my tomatoes this year. The only thing different in my yard this year is a mother morning dove and her two young ones. I have yet to catch them at it,but lost two more this morning. I covered the top of fence with chicken wire so we will see if that solves my problem. I sure hope so.

  • My tomatoes are getting eaten the same way. I’m in Las Vegas and all i’ve seen is birds and ants Have looked the plants all over for horn worms but not a one and the foliage is not eaten just the fruit when is begins to ripen Thinking of using the pepper spray someone listed but would really like to know what this is? Anyone ever find out what it is exactly? We are using an above ground with 2×6’s and really goot potting soil on top of desert sand.

    • Marilyn, the climate and soil conditions are vastly different in south Florida and Las Vegas. I have seen birds, squirrels and possums eat tomatoes, but other than that, I am afraid I can’t be of much help because of the differences in the areas where we live. I do suggest you contact your local agricultural extension center. The folks there should be able to help you. Good luck with your tomatoes.

  • I’m having the same problem. I have had the first two almost completely ripe tomatoes of the year munched by something. I do not have any chipmunks in this area (Lynnwood WA). I’m convinced it must be rats. It’s the only thing that is universal to all of us experiencing this.

  • After a good year last year will few bites, they are at it again. Nearly every ripe tomato with a bite out of it. I believe it is cardinals, but haven’t caught any red-beaked.

  • I have been having the same thing–tops of tomato plants bitten off and carried around or just left hanging. At first they were not bothering the actual tomatoes. Then I caught a slug, bored right into the tomato! But I also suspect a chipmunk, as I’ve seen him in the barn several times, and he gets into the greenhouse from the barn, under the wall. I have blocked it all off now, and will see if this keeps happening.

  • After years of losing about 50% of my tomatoes to what every pest has been doing this, I finally put netting up. Now I am picking and eating nearly 100% of my tomatoes. Sad that it took me this long to take action. I used basic bird netting that I bought on line and added some longer stakes to hold it up. A bit of a pain to pick the tomatoes, but at least they don’t have those little rotting holes in them. I’m still not completely sure if it was birds or squirrels, but I don’t really have to worry about that anymore.

  • Forget the Scarecrows & Pie plates, they don’t work either. Got 56 Tomatoe plants and I can’t find out what’s eating my green and red tomatoes either. Please Help, Thanks.
    Flowood, MS

  • Just caught a groundhog eating and going right over fence!

  • like everyone else I have something taking a few bites of my heirloom tomatoes ,always right before they’re ripe,some are over a foot off the ground,figured it was a crow,maybe chipmunks,funny thing is there is little to nothing to climb,usually happens over night,could be a bunny or rat,it’d be cool to know,anyway I live in upstate NY

  • I just watched a cardinal steal one of my cherry tomatoes!

  • We have been having the same issues too. Northwest NJ – zone 6. All our heirloom tomatoes just before ripe have that stinking bite mark in it. I haven’t been able to figure out either. We dont have rats, or many chipmunks/squirrels. Fenced in garden with electric fencing (animal pastures) around the vegetable garden so no chance of a larger animal getting in. We have lots of birds, but none have been seen skulking around the garden…. Unless it’s a sneak attack at night. Wish I knew what it was. The goats are getting spoiled getting all of our sweet tasty NJ tomatoes some stinking critter has to just RUIN right before picking. 🙁

  • Ok, just like everyone on this forum, I’ve been experiencing the same problem with the mystery preditor and the green tomatoes! But I’ve found the culprit! While cutting off the brown and damaged parts of my plant, I noticed what looked like a really fat, swollen part of a stalk, but it MOVED. After saying GROSS! I said Good riddance and chopped it with my garden sheers. Sorry to those who love bugs, but this is WAR! Anyway, it is some type of bright green segmented catapillar about 2 1/2 inches long, about 1/2 in. in circumference, with leaf-like looking disguise on it’s back which has white coloration at the edges. It’s underside, starting with the tail end has a sort of verticle, clam-like thing on it which probable helps it’s stability. Then there are 4 segments which each have a pair of hairy little gripping clam-like feet, then two segments make up it’s “neck” area. Finally there are 4 pairs of small black and white striped legs with pinchers at the end and FINALLY, it hideous mouth which looks like that of a lamprey! A circular, suctorial mouth with horny teeth for boring. GROSS!
    I only found the one on my plant. Happy hunting friends!

  • It may be roof rats. Our orange tree has suffered in this way for two years! Fruit being eaten right off the tree. I think that might be what is eating my tomato’s. Only the ripe ones are being eaten and they are left hanging on the vine but with half of it gone.


  • Here in Las Vegas it’s the birds!! I’m told they drink the juices out of the tomato. My tomatoes looked just like the ones in the picture above.