Yes, there are animals that eat cactus! And yes, we are talking about those green thorny green plants. Nature has its magic, and there are numerous animals that consume cactus as their daily diet.
So, even though we human beings cannot eat or digest these plants (specifically raw), there are numerous creatures that can do the task. That is the main focus of our article. Here, we will be talking about what animals eat cactus, how they eat them, why do they need them, and so forth.
All you have to do is be patient, read the entire writing, and you will be amazed at how nature makes sure that all its inhabitants are well-nourished even in the harshest environments.
Why Would An Animal Eat Cactus?
Eating cactus is a mechanism for desert animals to survive in the harsh, dry, and hot conditions of the desert. As water is scarce in the desert, the cactus has found a method of storing water, which is one of the crucial ingredients for making their food.
Due to the fact that it is a good source of fluid, animals of the desert have found ways to use these plant’s liquid-rich features to their advantage and live in challenging situations of the wasteland.
What Animals Eat Cactus?
We are going to be honest; there are numerous animals that can eat cactus. A cactus is a tricky plant to eat, but it is not impossible. And in some conditions and equipped with the right tools, some animals do this tricky deal on a daily basis. So, here is a list of all the animals that eat cactus.
Camels are one of the best examples of animals that eat cactus or other prickly plants. Their favorite is the Prick Pear Cacti and Jumping Cholla. These plants have extremely spiky barbs and spines, which makes them very troublesome to swallow. But not for the Camels!
You should know, our hump-back friends are equipped with something called papillae. These are a form of ‘wiggly finger’ that passes food down the throat without much irritation.
Hence, when a camel eats a cactus, they pivot their mouth while chewing, which causes the thorns to slide down into their stomach and does not cause any harm to their mouths. Nonetheless, the animal does feel some pain when they are doing the act, but for survival purposes, they will neglect it to attain the fluids.
Apart from damage to the mouths, cactus is very difficult to digest. That is where their ruminant attribute comes into play. Due to that, the animal can digest the trickiest food without any issue. Also, the camel has a very potent digestive system.
Since the camel falls under the cattle variant, it contains four compartments (unlike us humans, who have only one). Each of these has very effective and potent bacteria, which allow them to digest the food and get all the essential nutrients to live.
Unlike our big cattle friend, the jackrabbit is a more selective eater of the cactus. The jackrabbit is very small, and with the help of their petite stature, these animals choose areas that are not very prickly as the others. Now, you might be thinking, ‘The entire cactus body is prickly! How does it find a spot with fewer thorns?’
The truth is, a cactus does not have spikes everywhere. If you have a cactus at your place, give it an inspection. Do you see? The bottom or base part of the cactus does not have many thorns! That is where our little buddy likes to go. In addition to that, you can deem that these are the spots where the plant stores most of the liquid.
Plus, the cactus has fruits. These fruits also have a high fluid content, which allows the jackrabbits to get a critical amount of liquid. And the seeds; they will simply pass them out through their feces.
These are another variation of small rodents found in the desert. They are generally called trade or wood rats. And, similar to jackrabbits, these animals take full advantage of their size. Because of their small structures, these animals are capable of selectively eating areas where the cactus does not have any thorns or spikes.
To be precise, it indulges in eating the flesh of cacti from the base.
If we categorized animals on their ability to consume cacti, this guy would come second. The reason behind its ability to eat all cacti is its protruded tusks. It can tear off the prickly body of a cactus without much issue. Such an attribute enables the animal to rip off the plant without damaging its mouth.
Also, it contains a unique mouth. Thus, it can effortlessly bit, tear, chomp a little, and swallow. However, since it does not have the essential tooth build to chew the cactus, these animals swallow the plant whole. That is where their ability not to be affected by a cactus’s prickles comes into play.
5. Prairie Dog
They might have the title dog in their name, but they are a species of rodents in reality. Conventionally, these animals are herbivorous and eat any genre of plant that they will come across.
But if they are unable to find the food they conventionally like, they will start consuming cactus. And, similar to jackrabbits and packrats, they do selective eating. They will eat areas that contain fewer thorns or will eat the fruits and flowers of a cactus.
6. Gila Woodpecker
All this time, we have talked about mammals on the ground. However, there are some birds that eat cactus. One of them is the Gila Woodpecker. Woodpeckers are excellent flyers. They are one of those few species of birds that are capable of staying in a spot while flying.
By using this exceptional attribute, these creatures are capable of keeping away from the thorns of a cactus. Once they have found the perfect spot, they will make cavities in the cactus using their small and sharp beaks. Upon creating the holes, they will sipe in the liquid and provide themselves the nutrient to survive.
A Fun Fact: The Gila woodpecker makes its home on a cactus.
7. Ground Squirrel
Another member of the rodent family that eats cactus is the ground squirrels. But they do not feast on the cactus’ flesh. They might have a bijou build, but they avoid the hassle of making sure that they are picking the right spot. And trust us, it is not a fun thing to do for a small animal.
Instead, they prefer indulging in the fruits and seeds of the plant. Now that might not contain the adequate nutrients when eating the flesh of the cactus (the juiciest and fluid-rich part of the cacti), but it will eat in a bulk quantity to quench its needs. Also, it is the most efficient and hazardless method.
8. Galapagos Land Iguana
We have featured birds and land-dwelling mammals, but even lizards like to eat cactus to survive. The Galapagos Iguana is the only creature that tops the javelina when it comes to eating cactus. These animals are the best when it comes to eating cactus.
Eating cactus is no easy deed, and we can assure you, no matter how well equipped the creature is, it will have feel discomfort when consuming cactus. But the Galapagos iguana is the only one that is capable of not having any issue while having the plant. All thanks to its excellent adaptive capabilities.
9. Eastern Cotton Tail
The Eastern Cotton Tail is very similar to the jackrabbits. These creatures are very petite, which allows them to commence in that selective eating the jackrabbits do. They will stay clear from highly spiky spots and normally eat the cacti’s bottom flesh, which is the most nutrient area on a cactus.
Nevertheless, it will eat seeds, fruits, and flowers of a cactus if given the option. These are places where there is no sign of thorns, and the animal is capable of eating its fill without any issue.
Eating cactus is no easy task, and not all animals can perform this act. You should also know that even the juices of a cactus can prove to be harmful to numerous animals, including us humans. Thus, you need an effective digestive system and several other perks to be able to consume cactus without much issue.
Therefore, if you have read our article on what animals eat cactus, you will have a crystal-clear idea regarding the topic.
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