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9 Examples of Animals That Eat Cactus

A cactus is a perennial plant, meaning they live for more than two years. In fact, some species can live up to 200 years. There are approximately 2,000 cactus species in the world, and many species of animals that eat them as part of their diets.

This unique plant can live for up to two years without getting a single drop of water. Many species of cactus are covered in small “spikes,” which are actually a special type of leaf. These sharp leaves are designed to help protect the plant from predators.

Despite this, the cactus provides a great source of food for many animals. This article discusses nine of the animals that eat cacti.

Collage photo animals that eat cactus

9 Animals That Eat Cactus

1. Desert Tortoise

Desert tortoise in sandy desert
Desert tortoise in sandy desert | image by Joshua Tree National Park via Flickr

Scientific name: Gopherus agassizii

The Desert Tortoise is the state reptile of California. These slow-moving creatures can live up to 80 years. Since they are cold-blooded animals, they must work to regulate their body temperature in the desert.

They often burrow in the sand or sit in the shade of rock to stay warm during hot desert days. Desert tortoises eat grasses, wildflowers, and other plants. They also enjoy eating the pads of the cactus plant.

2. Black-tailed Jackrabbit

Black-tailed Jackrabbit
Black-tailed Jackrabbit | image by Joshua Tree National Park via Flickr

Scientific name: Lepus californicus

The Black-tailed Jackrabbit is a desert-dwelling hare that uses its long ears to help regulate body temperature. These ears also give them a great sense of hearing, so they can easily detect predators.

To escape, the jackrabbit can jump up to 20 feet and can run up to 40 miles per hour. While the Black-tailed Jackrabbit prefers to eat grasses and plants, especially alfalfa, they also eat cactus plants in the desert.

3. Camels

Camel in desert
Camel in desert

Scientific name: Camelus dromedarius

Camels are large mammals with humps on their backs. They are native to desert regions like the Sahara Desert. Camels can go several days without drinking water and have adapted well to living in the hot deserts.

Another adaptation is the papillae in their mouths, a hard palate at the top of the camel’s mouth that they use to grind the food. Camels eat cacti despite the painful “spikes.” They use the papillae to chew the cactus and readjust the needles in their mouths so they can swallow them in a way that doesn’t poke them.

4. Prairie Dogs

Group of prairie dogs
Group of Prairie dogs | image by Jodie Wilson via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Scientific name: Cynomys

Prairie dogs are cute rodents that build complex burrow systems underground. Prairie dogs are technically ground squirrels and can be found in the grasslands of North America.

Their diet consists of grass, vegetables, and insects. They tend to live in areas with few water resources and rely on prickly pear cactus plants for water intake.

5. Collared Peccary

Collared Peccary in the wild
Collared Peccary in the wild | image by Bernard DUPONT via Flickr | CC BY-SA 2.0

Scientific name: Pecari tajacu

The Collared Peccary, also known as the javelin, is closely related to a pig. These mammals are native to the Southwestern United States down through South America. They are diurnal, meaning they are most active during the day.

Collared Pecarries are social animals living in groups of up to 50. Their diet consists of roots, nuts, fungi, snakes, eggs, fruits, and more. They also include cactus plants in their diet, specifically the spikes, pads, and fruits of the prickly pear cactus.

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6. Eastern Cotton Tail

Eastern Cottontail
Eastern cottontail rabbit | image by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Northeast Region via Flickr

Scientific name: Sylvilagus floridanus

The Eastern Cotton Tail is the most commonly found rabbit in the United States. They are typically reddish-brown and grayish-brown in color and have long ears and big, brown eyes.

To avoid being seen by predators, the Eastern Cottontail can sit still for up to 15 minutes and can run up to 18 miles per hour if it needs to escape. This rabbit eats a variety of foods, including cactus, from which it also gets most of its water.

7. Galapagos Land Iguana

Galapagos Land Iguana eating cactus
Galapagos Land Iguana eating cactus | image by kuhnmi via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Scientific name: Conolophus subcristatus

The Galapagos Land Iguana is a large lizard native to the Galapagos Islands. These reptiles live on their own and can be very territorial. They are diurnal, spending their days basking in the sun and looking for food.

They spend their nights sleeping. While mostly herbivorous, they have been known to consume insects and dead animals to supplement their diet. They really like to eat prickly pear cactus plants, which make up about 80% of their diet and provide them with a great source of water.

8. Gila Woodpecker

Gila Woodpecker
Gila Woodpecker | image by Mike’s Birds via Flickr | CC BY-SA 2.0

Scientific name: Melanerpes uropygialis

The Gila Woodpecker is a noisy bird that can be found in the southwestern United States and western Mexico. They are often found nesting in trees and other plants like cacti.

When they create a hole in a cactus for nesting, the bird must wait for the cactus pulp to dry before it can build its nest inside. They have an omnivorous diet, preferring to eat insects and seeds, but they also consume the fruit of the cactus plants on which they live.

9. Desert Woodrat

Desert woodrat eating peanuts
Desert woodrat eating peanuts | image by Jules Jardinier via Wikimedia Commons | CC BY-SA 4.0

Scientific name: Neotoma lepida

The Desert Woodrat is found in the deserts of western North America. These small packrats range from gray to brown to black. They are nocturnal, coming out primarily at night.

Their diets consist of leaves, seeds, nuts, thistles, and various parts of the cactus plant. They will bring much of this food to store in their burrows to eat later.