Cultivating prickly pear cactus in your backyard garden can be tricky since it is a five-star restaurant for some animals. These animals rely on the pads, fruits, and seeds to source nutrients or food.
The most common animals that eat cactus are camels, jackrabbits, tortoises, gophers, chipmunks, and ground squirrels. These animals enjoy eating different parts of these succulents despite their spiky features.
These animals have anatomical and physiological features that enable them to eat the cactus with sharp spines without harm or side effects. Below is a quick list of animals that eat prickly pear cactus with their pictures. (Source: National Park Service).
16 Type of Animals That Can Eat Cactus (Pads & Fruits)
Several animals eat cacti without any harm or side effects. The prickly pear cactus is the most common choice for these animals to eat since it does not have numerous thorns or spines. Below is a quick list of animals that feed on cacti:
Camels thrive well in semi-arid and arid regions. These animals are adapted to eating desert plants like cacti without facing any problems.
The camels’ upper mouth part has hard palates that help them grind cacti without any side effects or harm. But these cacti spines may hurt the camels sometimes while eating.
These animals also have thick leathery lips that help ease the pain caused by eating pads with sharp spines. The camels also manipulate the upper lips and use them as a sense of touch.
Camels are ruminant animals and can digest the tough fibers from the cacti. The most common cacti species consumed by camels are prickly pear cactus and jumping cholla.
Jackrabbits are desert mammals that belong to the hare family. These rabbits have long ears to help them sense danger miles away and cool their body temperature.
These desert mammals roam in an open environment, searching for food and water. Cacti and other desert vegetations are the main sources of food or nutrients.
Jackrabbits consume fleshy parts of cacti while avoiding the sharp spines. They also eat cacti fruits and disperse the seeds through their feces.
Galapagos Land Iguanas
Cacti make up 40-50% of Galapagos land iguanas’ diet. These animals are intelligent since they can remove large cacti spines with the help of the feet.
Galapagos land iguanas love feeding on cactus pads and flowers. The animals can swallow a whole cactus pad or flower in a few gulps within a minute.
These are small herbivorous rodents that love to burrow. These rodents eat a wide range of plants allowing them to survive in any environment.
Prairie dogs rely on cactus pads and flowers during drought seasons. They also eat pads section with fewer thorns to hydrate their body.
These are medium-sized rodents with gray to brown fur. They have full to slender tails with stripes at their lower backs.
These rodents also prefer living in the ground holes. They are active during the day and love eating prickly pear cactus fruits and seeds.
Javelinas or Collard Peccary
These animals love eating the fruits, pads, and spikes on the prickly pear cacti. They have anatomical features similar to the pigs.
But Javelinas have smaller body sizes with their invisible tails. Their physiological adaptations allow them to feed on desert cacti.
The fleshy pads from the cactus help keep the peccary hydrated in the desert. These animals are not shy and won’t mind visiting your backyard garden to forage food.
Packrats are also called trade rats and have gray fur with an average size of 13 inches. These rodents live in large nests made from plant parts and other objects.
These nests are common in cacti clumps, vegetation, and rock crevices. They enjoy eating the fleshy cacti pads by avoiding the spiky parts.
Packrats have physiological features that help metabolize the oxalic acids in prickly pear cactus and other succulents. The juicy from these fleshy pads help keep packrats hydrated.
Gophers belong to the list of burrowing rodents since they live in underground burrows with storage compartments. These rodents feed on prickly pear cacti pads to quench their thirst.
The pocket gopher is a perfect example since it loves living in short grass prairies. Besides that, they eat cacti fruits and flowers.
Garden mice also enjoy eating prickly pear cactus plants. Their favorite parts are seeds, fruits, and young seedlings. These animals can consume the entire grassland of prickly pear cacti seedlings in five days.
Examples of mice that love prickly pear cacti are cactus mouse, pocket mouse, desert pocket mouse, brush mouse, Merriam kangaroo rat, and Nelson kangaroo rat.
Chipmunks are fast-moving rodents that resemble gophers. These animals have black fur with white stripes that distinguish them from gophers.
About twenty-four species of chipmunks live in the desert and high mountain habitats. Most chipmunks hail from North America and Mexico.
Uinta and Cliff chipmunk species native to Utah consume prickly pear cacti pads, seeds, and fruits. These creatures also help disperse the seeds to other locations.
Gila woodpecker is a bird species that feed on insects and fruits. The bird prefers cherry-picking the fleshy part of the saguaro cactus with its beak while avoiding the thorns.
These birds also make cavities on the cacti plants for nesting and raising young ones. Saguaro cactus provides food and a secure environment to dwell in.
Gilded Flicker Birds
Gilded flicker birds are desert bird species that love living in the saguaro cacti plants and eat its fruits. These birds are usually brown with some black and red marks.
Gilded flicker birds have wings that measure 11 inches long and 19 inches wide. Most of these bird species are common in the Sonoran desert.
Coyotes are dog-like animals that appear carnivorous at first sight. But coyotes are omnivores since they can eat plants and small animals.
Prickly pear cacti are one of these plants since coyotes eat the fruits and pads. The food variety choice enables coyotes to survive in the desert.
Harris’s Antelope Squirrels
These squirrels are desert population animals that feed on the cacti seeds and fruits. They eat these cactus parts without getting poked or injured.
These animals live underneath the cactus and other desert shrubs. They also love jumping around the plant while having some bites on the fruits or pads for survival.
Eastern cottontail is a close relative to jackrabbits. The animal prefers eating the cacti base and their fruits for survival in the desert.
The eastern cottontails also help disperse seeds of cacti through their feces. These creatures add to the list of animals that eat cactus.
Bats love to shelter under the cactus plant in the desert. They have the habit of taking over the abandoned other bird’s holes and cavities.
Bats eat ripe fruits of the cactus as the primary source of water. Some bat species consume nectar from saguaro cactus flowers.
How to Deter Animals from Eating Your Cactus
It is not unusual to find your ornamental cactus eaten by an animal. Different cacti species are preyed on by various rodents, birds, and even human beings. Below are quick tips to keep animals away from your cactus:
Use a wire fence to protect your ornamental cacti from animals. We recommend burying the wire fence at least 4-6 inches deep in the soil to prevent rodents from digging under it.
Rodents usually attack cactus plants at night. It would be best to cover your ornamental cacti with buckets or empty nursery containers.
Surround your ornamental cactus plant with mint to repel rodents since they hate mint aroma. Be careful since some mint species are invasive and destroy your cactus plant.
Breed cats and dogs in your home since they will help eradicate rodents or other animals that eat cactus plants. Jack Russel Terries is my favorite dog species for chasing jackrabbits.
Buy urine products of coyotes, wolves, and foxes to spray around your cactus plant. These products are available in stores and are ideal for repelling animals that eat cactus. A mixture of hot pepper, onion, or garlic spray can also eliminate rodents that eat cactus.
My Final Thoughts
Cacti are rich in nutrients and fluids that nourish desert animals. Cacti plantations also create shelter for some animals. (Source: University of Nevada)
Most animals that eat cactus plants are camels, rodents, rabbits, reptiles, coyotes, and Gila woodpeckers. It is not unusual to find your backyard ornamental cactus plant eaten by them.
These animals love eating prickly pear cactus and saguaro cactus. These cacti species are also my favorite ornamental plants for my backyard garden.
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