What Animals Eat Cactus? 14 Animals That Eat Cacti

Last updated on October 10th, 2022

I always thought that cactuses are plants that animals tend to avoid. But when I started talking to a friend of mine who is an amateur gardener, I was surprised to learn that cactuses are a favorite food of several animals like rabbits and aphids.

Animals that eat cactus:

  • Camel
  • Ground squirrel
  • Desert tortoise
  • Aphid
  • Rabbit
  • Bearded dragon
  • Peccary
  • Gopher
  • Deer
  • Whitefly
  • Ant
  • Goat
  • Desert iguana
  • Kangaroo Rat

While we talked of plants like cactuses, I found that my knowledge of these prickly plants was quite limited.

Cactuses not only form the staple diet of camels; these nutrition-rich plants favor many other creatures of the animal kingdom.

Much to my surprise, the spikes on the plants are not a deterrent, even to small creatures like gophers. It got me thinking, and I decided to compile a list of animals that love to eat cacti. Some of the animals that enjoy eating cacti are as follows:

List of animals that eat cactus

1. Camels

camel eating cactus 15012022

When we think of camels, the first thing that strikes us is that these creatures are considered the ships of the desert.

But camels are also known for their immense appetite for cacti. The mouths of camels are lined with papillae or nodules that create a formidable interior layer.

This prevents the spikes of the cacti from hurting the inner lining of the mouth of the camel.

However, the natural reason for camels consuming cactus is the easy availability of the spiky plant in the desert region.

The desert is the natural habitat of camels and this means that these creatures have to depend on the cactus for their nutrition.

2. Ground squirrels

squirrel sitting on cactus 15012022

Ground squirrels love to consume cacti as these succulent plants form an excellent source of nutrition for them.

My friend, who loved to plant cacti in her garden, was worried when squirrels attacked these plants.

The primary reason ground squirrels seek cactus is that these plants often have sweet nectar that is very attractive to them.

The succulent nature of the cactus also forms an alternative source of fluid for the squirrels.

The ground squirrels often look for cactus during drought primarily because of the lack of water.

Gardeners often try to protect their cacti by adding tight-knit fencing around the plants. 

3. Desert tortoise

tortoise eating cactus 15012022

Desert tortoises are herbivores that depend on grasses, vegetables, and flowers for their food.

But these reptiles are often attracted to cactuses as these form a good supply of water as there is always a lack of fresh water in the desert region.

When it comes to desert tortoises, a unique feature of the creature is that they can go for nearly a year without water. But they consume cactuses as a replacement for water.

Desert tortoises are also known to seek out spineless cacti as these creatures do not have a strong lining inside their mouth like camels.

However, sometimes they can consume Nopales or the common spiky cactus.

4. Aphids

aphids on cactus 15012022

If you love planting cactus, you must protect your succulents from aphid infection. These tiny creatures dig holes into the plant then suck the sap out of the succulent.

Aphid infestation can be identified by the honeydew-like secretion left on the plant.

Most gardeners fear aphid infestations as they are challenging to identify and are equally challenging to resolve.

However, if you love planting cactuses and have observed signs like soot or mold on your succulents, then chances are that it is due to an aphid infestation.

If you do not remove the infestation early on, these tiny creatures can destroy the succulents.

5. Rabbits

desert rabbit and cactus 15012022

Rabbits are herbivores and consume several plants, including succulents like cacti and yucca. These rodents love to chew on the soft fleshy body of cactuses.

If you have a pet rabbit and plan to give it cactus, remove the spikes from the succulent and then give it to your pet.

Rabbits often search for succulents in the wild, especially during drought conditions.

The primary reason for this behavior of rabbits is that cactuses often provide the necessary moisture that rabbits cannot find when the natural water supply dries up during drought conditions.

6. Bearded dragons

bearded dragon 15012022

Bearded dragons can consume prickly pear cactus and specifically look for prickly pear pads. The fruits of the cactus plants are beautiful to reptiles.

If you have a bearded dragon as a pet and want to include cactus as a part of its diet, you should remove the spikes.

Generally, the dragons consume the fruits in the wild and avoid the spikes. Therefore, it is vital to remove the spikes to protect the reptile pet dragons.

In the wild, the reptiles consume succulents as an alternative source of moisture.

In most cases, the reptiles can continue for several days without water, but the cactus can provide them with the necessary amount of moisture when other sources have dried up.

7. Peccaries

peccary and cactus 15012022

Peccaries are medium-sized mammals that resemble pigs. In the wild, peccaries consume several types of food and prefer a plant-based diet.

But peccaries are omnivores and can consume a wide range of foodstuff. You will find that peccaries are not particularly selective about their food and can consume cactuses.

The succulents are a favorite of the peccaries, especially when they are free of any spikes.

In the desert region, the collared peccaries often search for plants like nopales and prickly pear cacti, which have high water content.

The plant’s moisture content acts as a substitute for natural water only consumable by certain animals.

8. Gophers

gopher in hole 09012022

Gophers are known to consume all types of plants, and they especially love to eat succulents because of the fleshy nature of the plants.

Unfortunately, these creatures are also voracious eaters and can consume several plants in a single attack.

Gardeners often fear the attack of gophers as these creatures can be active throughout the day and night. When I talked to my friend about her cactus plants, she voiced her concerns about gophers.

These creatures can destroy cactus plants, both young and mature ones. They chew through the plants and will especially attack the succulents when alternative food or water sources are less in supply.

9. Deer

deer and cactus 15012022

Deer are opportunistic feeders. They will look for alternative food sources to fulfill their requirements of both nutrition and water.

Deer are known to eat cactus-like prickly pear, tamarillo, and yucca blooms. The primary reason why deer target these cactuses is the high water content of these plants.

The high carbohydrate content of these cactuses makes these plants sweet, which also makes it one of this animal’s favorite food.

If you have a garden where you love to grow succulents, then you must take proper protection against deer.

Gardeners often mention that deer have wandered into their gardens and destroyed their succulents.

10. Whiteflies

whiteflies on cactus 15012022

Just like aphids, whiteflies are also a common infestation for cactus plants. These tiny creatures can infect the plants and suck the sap out of them.

The sap of the plants forms the primary source of nutrition for the whiteflies. They consume the sap and lay eggs on your succulents or your cactus.

These eggs will hatch into the whitefly larvae, which will also feed on the succulent sap or cactus.

When the whitefly larvae enter the pupae stage, you will find that your succulents are drying up, and there is a honeydew-like sticky substance left on the plant.

11. Ants

ant eating cactus 15012022

Ants love cactus, even the ones that are grown indoors. The nectar secreted by the cactus is irresistible to the ants.

The ants feed on the sap, and the nectar of the cactus blooms. You will find that the house cactuses are often infested by ants, especially when these plants are in full bloom.

This is because ants cannot distinguish between the honeydew secreted by the aphids or the nectar of the cactus blooms.

As a result, if your cactus plant has an aphid infestation, it can also attract ants.

Additionally, ants are drawn towards cactuses primarily because of the succulent nature of the plants.

12. Goats

goat and cactus 15012022

Goats are known to forage for prickly pear cactuses, and in the wild, goats tend to seek these plants because of their high moisture content.

Research shows that goats need to consume a sizeable portion of protein every day. Cactuses are rich in protein and hence, are a natural vegetable that goats forage for in the wild.

Goats also need to consume a significant amount of moisture, and the cactus plants provide the necessary amount for them.

But goats do not break off the cactus from the stem; instead, they consume the parts that fall onto the ground as these have fewer spikes and do not damage their lips or tongue.

13. Desert iguanas

desert iguana eating cactus 15012022

Desert iguanas love to eat cacti, especially the flowers of the plant. When the creature is young, they depend mainly on insects for their regular supply of food.

A matured desert iguana will feed on cactus blooms and fruits in just a few gulps. In most cases, desert iguanas love to eat cactuses as an alternative source of moisture.

In desert regions where water is in short supply, these cactuses provide an adequate amount of water content.

The iguanas do not require a significant amount of water, and the moisture content of cactuses is sufficient to meet this requirement of the creatures.

14. Kangaroo Rats

kangaroo rat 14052022

Since cactus have an inherent moisture content, kangaroo rats and smaller rodents feed on their leaves during the dry season.

These rodents rely on cacti as food during the dry season because there is little food to be found.

However, because of their unique digestive systems, these animals are able to extract moisture and nutrients from plants that would otherwise be inedible to other animals.

Still interested in learning more about kangaroo rats eating cactus? Check out that article for more information.

Editor’s note:

Although cactus plants are known for storing large amounts of water, the fluid is not always fresh and safe for human consumption.

What animals eat cactus?

The animals that eat cactus are camels, ground squirrels, desert tortoises, aphids, rabbits, bearded dragons, peccaries, gophers, deer, whiteflies, ants, and goats. However, animals like rabbits and gophers will only consume cacti when other food sources are scarce, whereas camels eat this succulent regularly.

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