What animals eat cacti? 16 Animals That Eat Cacti – ISPUZZLE

Growing nopales in your garden can be tricky as it is a five star restaurant for some animals. These animals depend on pads, fruits, and seeds for nutrients or food.

The most common animals that eat cacti are camels, hares, turtles, gophers, squirrels, and ground squirrels. These animals like to eat different parts of these succulents, despite their pungent properties.

These animals have anatomical and physiological characteristics that allow them to eat the cactus with sharp thorns without danger or side effects. Below is a short list of animals that eat prickly pears along with their photos. (Source: National Park Service).


16 types of animals that can eat cacti (pads and fruits)

Various animals eat cacti without any harm or side effects. The nopal is the most common choice for these animals because it does not have many spines or quills. Here is a short list of animals that eat cacti:


Camels thrive in semi-arid and arid regions. These animals are adapted to eat desert plants like cacti without any problem.

The upper part of the camel’s mouth has a hard palate that helps it grind cacti without any side effects or damage. But these cactus thorns can sometimes injure camels while they are eating.

These animals also have thick, leathery lips that relieve the pain caused by the sharp spined pads. Camels also manipulate the upper lip and use it as a sense of touch.

Camels are ruminants and can digest the tough fibers of cacti. The cactus species most commonly eaten by camels are prickly pear and jumping cholla.


Hares are desert mammals belonging to the hare family. These bunnies have long ears to help them sense danger from miles away and cool their body temperature.

These desert mammals roam open environments in search of food and water. Cacti and other desert plants are the main sources of food or nutrients.

Hares eat the fleshy parts of cacti and avoid the sharp thorns. They also eat cactus fruits and disperse the seeds through their droppings.

Galapagos land iguanas

Cacti make up 40-50% of the diet of Galapagos land iguanas. These animals are smart because they can remove large thorns from cacti with their paws.

Galapagos land iguanas love to feed on cacti and flowers. Animals can swallow a cactus toad or an entire flower in a few gulps in less than a minute.

prairie dogs

They are small herbivorous rodents that like to dig. These rodents eat a wide variety of plants that allow them to survive in any environment.

Prairie dogs depend on cactus leaves and flowers during dry seasons. They also eat a pillow area with less spines to hydrate their body.

ground squirrels

They are medium-sized rodents with gray to brown fur. They have full to thin tails with stripes down their lower backs.

These rodents also prefer to live in holes dug in the ground. They are active during the day and love to eat cactus fruits and prickly pear seeds.

Boars or peccaries

These animals love to eat the fruits, pads and thorns of the nopales. They have anatomical characteristics similar to pigs.

But the Javelinas have smaller bodies with their tails invisible. Their physiological adaptations allow them to feed on desert cacti.

The cactus’ fleshy pads help keep the peccary hydrated in the desert. These animals are not shy and will not hesitate to visit your garden for a meal.

pack of rats

Packrats are also known as commercial rats and have gray fur that averages 13 inches in size. These rodents live in large nests made of plant parts and other objects.

These nests are common in cacti, vegetation, and rock crevices. They like to eat the fleshy cacti while avoiding the sharp parts.

Packrats have physiological characteristics that help metabolize oxalic acids in prickly pears and other succulents. The juiciness of these meaty pads helps keep pack rats hydrated.


Moles are on the list of burrowing rodents because they live in underground burrows with storage compartments. These rodents feed on nopales to quench their thirst.

The pocket gopher is a perfect example of this as it likes to live in short-grass prairies. They also eat cactus fruits and flowers.


Garden mice also like to eat cactus plants. Their favorite parts are seeds, fruits and young plants. These animals can eat the entire nopal grassland in five days.

Examples of mice that like prickly pear cacti include the cactus mouse, rock pocket mouse, desert pocket mouse, brush mouse, Merriam kangaroo rat, and Nelson kangaroo rat.


Chipmunks are fast-moving rodents that look like gophers. These animals have black fur with white stripes that distinguish them from ground squirrels.

Some twenty-four species of squirrels live in desert and high mountain habitats. Most squirrels come from North America and Mexico.

The Uinta and Cliff species of squirrels native to Utah consume prickly pears, cacti, seeds, and fruits. These creatures also help spread the seeds to other places.

Gila Peak

The Gila Woodpecker is a species of bird that feeds on insects and fruits. The bird prefers to pluck the fleshy part of the saguaro cactus with its beak, avoiding the thorns.

These birds also dig cavities in cacti to nest and raise their young. The saguaro cactus provides food and a safe environment to live in.

Gold plated flashing birds

Golden flashing birds are a species of desert bird that like to live on saguaro cacti and eat their fruit. These birds are mostly brown with some black and red spots.

Golden birds have wings that are 11 inches long and 19 inches wide. Most of these bird species are common in the Sonoran Desert.


Coyotes are canine animals that appear carnivorous at first glance. But coyotes are omnivorous as they can eat plants and small animals.

Prickly pears are one such plant, as coyotes eat the fruit and pads. The choice of food varieties allows coyotes to survive in the desert.

Harris’s antelope squirrels

These squirrels are desert animals that feed on cactus seeds and fruits. They eat these cactus parts without stinging or hurting themselves.

These animals live under cacti and other bushes in the desert. They also like to hop around the plant biting into fruits or pads to survive.

eastern cottontail rabbit

Cottontail rabbits are closely related to hares. The animal prefers to eat the base of the cactus and its fruits to survive in the desert.

The eastern cottontail also helps disperse cactus seeds through its droppings. These creatures are added to the list of animals that eat cacti.


Bats love to hide under the cactus in the desert. They have a habit of taking over the burrows and dens of other birds.

Bats eat the ripe fruits of the cactus as their main source of water. Some species of bats consume the nectar from the flowers of the saguaro cactus.

How to stop animals from eating your cactus

It is not uncommon for an animal to eat your ornamental cactus. Different cactus species are preyed upon by various rodents, birds, and even humans. Here are some quick tips for keeping animals away from your cactus:


Use a chain link fence to protect your ornamental cacti from animals. We recommend burying the chain link fence at least 4-6 inches deep in the ground to prevent rodents from digging underneath.

it covers

Rodents often attack cacti at night. It is best to cover your ornamental cacti with buckets or empty breeding containers.


Surround your ornamental cactus with mint to keep rodents away, as they don’t like the smell of mint. Be careful as some mints are invasive and will destroy your cactus plant.


Keep cats and dogs in your home as they will help eradicate rodents or other animals that eat cactus plants. Jack Russel Terry is my favorite type of dog for hunting hares.


Buy coyote, wolf, and fox urine products to spray around your cactus. These products are available in stores and are ideal for repelling animals that eat cacti. A mixture of hot pepper, onion, or garlic spray can also eliminate rodents that eat cacti.

my last thoughts

Cacti are rich in nutrients and fluids that nourish desert animals. Cactus plantations also provide shelter for some animals. (Source: University of Nevada)

Most animals that eat cacti are camels, rodents, rabbits, reptiles, coyotes, and Gila woodpeckers. It is not uncommon for your garden ornamental cactus to be eaten.

These animals like to eat nopales and saguaro cacti. These cactus species are also my favorite ornamental plants for my garden.

Readers reading this will also read:

  • Is the cactus a vegetable?
  • Types of poisonous spiders
  • Types of wasps with photos
  • Types of ladybugs with photos.

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