It’s fall, and it’s pumpkin season! Pumpkin spice lattes, pumpkin spice pies, and pumpkin bread… Pumpkin is a versatile and tasty fruit that invokes cooler weather and Halloween festivities! Considering how tasty they are, it should come as no surprise that pumpkins are also a favorite fall treat for many wild animals as well. So, if your pumpkin patch looks like it’s being feasted on, it’s important to get familiar with the possible culprits so that you can take proper action to protect your fall harvest. Here is a comprehensive list of animals that love to eat pumpkins as much as we do.
1. Squirrels (Sciuridae)
There are currently some 285 different species of squirrels in the world, and they vary significantly in size, shape, and color. Yet, if you saw a squirrel, you’d know it’s a squirrel. They typically have slender bodies, prominently fluffy tails, and large eyes. For example, the largest squirrel is the red and white flying squirrel, which can grow to an amazing 4 feet long, while the smallest species is the African pygmy squirrel, which is just 5 inches long.
Squirrels are definitely not picky eaters, especially in the fall when they need to put on some fat to tide them over the winter. Funnily enough, it’s the springtime that worries squirrels more than fall, as it’s the time when their hidden stash starts to sprout. But generally, squirrels will eat anything from seeds, nuts, fungi, and even some fruits and vegetables, including your pumpkins!
2. Deer (Odocoileus virginiana)
Another animal that you might see eating your pumpkins is deer. Deer are widely distributed around the globe and are native to all continents except Australia and Antarctica. You’ll be able to find deer living in a variety of different habitats, from tropical rainforests to tundras. However, they are best suited to forested areas.
Deer are recognizable by their powerful, long legs and large ears, often paired with a compact tail. Depending on the species, they can vary in size significantly. The moose, which is the largest amongst the deer family, is about 6 feet tall at the shoulder, while the smallest deer is the northern pudu, which has a shoulder height of 1 to 1.5 feet. Most male deer tend to be larger than females, and generally, only males have antlers, with the exception of reindeer.
It’s not uncommon to find deer enjoying all kinds of tasty vegetables in your garden. They are browsers, after all, and won’t shy away from your pumpkins, shrubs, and even trees!
3. Mice (Mus)
The mouse belongs to the rodent family and is known to have a pointed snout, a fluffy body, and a tail that is scaly and as long as the rest of their body. They are hardy creatures, capable of adapting to all kinds of weather and conditions, and also have a high breeding rate. These factors combined make them world residents, and they are found on every continent except Antarctica.
It should come as no surprise that an animal that may eat your pumpkin is the mouse. Mice love consuming any kind of seed, fruit, or grain. If they live in urban areas, they will eat all kinds of food scraps as well. In fact, the mice living around your home may destroy your pumpkin in all of its life stages – even as a mere seed. But they’ll generally prefer to eat early-stage pumpkins. Also, even at a pumpkin’s full size, their size won’t stop them from trying to get to the seeds in your pumpkins, and they will bite on them to get to the seeds.
4. Rabbits (Oryctolagus cuniculus)
Probably the cutest pumpkin lovers in the animal world are the rabbits. Rabbits come in different colors and sizes. Of more than 300 breeds, the largest rabbit is the Flemish Giant Rabbit, which can grow up to an incredible 4 feet long! The smallest rabbit, on the other hand, is the Columbia Basin pygmy, which grows to just 12 inches long.
Interestingly, more than half of the world’s rabbit population lives in North America. However, rabbits live around the world and are native to Europe, Asia, Africa, and South America. Rabbits have even gone into space! In terms of habitat, the rabbit hops around in woods, forests, meadows, grasslands, and even deserts. They make beloved pets as well.
As herbivores, rabbits feed mainly on grass and leafy plants, but they also enjoy an occasional vegetable. Rabbits not only munch on pumpkin leaves, but they will also take a bite into your pumpkins for an occasional delicious treat.
5. Foxes (Vulpes vulpes)
Foxes are small to medium-sized animals. Red foxes, the largest of the true foxes, are around 22 to 32 inches long, minus the tail. The desert-dwelling fennec fox is the smallest of the foxes, ranging 14 to 16 inches long in body length. All foxes have recognizable triangular ears and a long, fluffy tail that is often more than one-third of their whole length. Male foxes are generally larger and heavier than their female counterparts.
Considering how prominent foxes are in culture, folklore, and literature, you’d expect there to be more of them. In reality, only 12 species belong to the group of “vulpes” or true foxes. However, don’t be fooled by the small number of species; these twelve species live across the world, on every continent except Antarctica. You can find them in woodlands, woods, mountains, and even deserts, but they have also adapted to living in human proximity.
While foxes may not be your usual culprit when it comes to fruits and vegetables, these mammals actually eat pumpkins, too! Foxes are omnivorous mammals and will choose to eat small reptiles and birds, even insects. However, they will also occasionally eat fruits, eggs, and, unfortunately for you, vegetables like pumpkins.
6. Raccoons (Procyon lotor)
If you were to imagine an animal that is most likely to eat your fall pumpkins, you might think of the raccoon. Raccoons have long, thick fur that is typically gray-brown in color, but the coloration can vary. They also have short, rounded ears that are bordered by white, as well as a longer, pointed snout. Most notably, these animals have distinct black, white, and gray face masks, making them look like the thieves that they are!
In terms of diet, raccoons are not at all picky. They base their diet mainly on whatever is available and easily accessible. But as a general rule, their diet is made up of 40% invertebrates, 30% vertebrates, and 30% plant and plant material.
Interestingly, raccoons originated in Europe before making their way to North America. They can also be found across Japan, Central Europe, and the Caucasus. While they initially lived in deciduous and mixed forests, they later migrated to mountains, coastal marshes, and urban areas, thanks to their adaptability. Just like squirrels, raccoons will try to fatten up before winter and will likely steal any type of food you leave out, including pumpkins.
7. Chickens (Gallus domesticus)
The chicken is the most common domestic animal in the world, with a population of over 34 billion. Considering how long we have relied on them for eggs and meat, it should come as no surprise that we have also managed to breed hundreds of chicken breeds. Some of these chickens were the result of natural selection, while others were cross-bred.
These omnivorous birds boast striking plumage, especially roosters, but both males and females have “combs” on their heads and flaps of skin under their beaks, called wattles. With that said, these wattles are often more prominent in males. Almost all chicken species have limited flying capabilities, yet many people are still surprised when they see a chicken roosting in a tree — those wings are not just for show!
This final animal on our list that eats pumpkins shouldn’t come as a surprise, as these feathery peckers will eat pretty much anything you toss in front of them; pumpkin seedlings, leaves, and even the pumpkins themselves are a delicious meal to these domestic animals. In fact, pumpkins are a great source of nutrition for chickens.
How to Deter Animals That Eat Pumpkins
Luckily, there are a few simple ways of keeping your pumpkins safe; the combination of these tips will ensure that you, and you only, can enjoy the goodies from your pumpkin patch.
Putting a fence around your patch is a foolproof way to keep larger animals from feasting on your pumpkins. Before you invest your time and money into building this barrier, though, you should first identify the culprit, as different types of fences will be more effective depending on the type of animal you are trying to keep out. If there’s more than one animal that is eating your pumpkins, try to find the best fence to ideally keep both animals out!
For example, chicken fences will work wonders for chickens and deer, but they will also work against rabbits if you bury the bottom 12 inches. However, if you have determined climbers, such as squirrels, you might want to add bird netting for an additional security layer.
If your main foe is an animal that can burrow, a fence may not be the best defense. In this case, if you’re after a natural method, consider stocking up on black pepper or cayenne powder. Sprinkling these at the base of their burrow will discourage them from trying to enter again.
Finally, you might consider growing your pumpkins vertically. While not as “traditionally” beautiful as having them sprawl on the ground, training the vines to go up will yield the same harvest and can create a differently beautiful sight. Plus, it will make feasting on your pumpkins a more demanding task for most ground animals!
Summary of the Animals That Eat Pumpkins
|Gallus gallus domesticus
The photo featured at the top of this post is © erenmotion/iStock via Getty Images
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