What Eats A Saguaro Cactus

Saguaro flowers are typically found close to the apex of the cactus’ stems and arms. They have a diameter of around 3 inches (8 cm) and are white in hue. They smell strongly, somewhat like ripe melons.

Flower pollination

The Mexican long-tongued bat and the lesser long-nosed bat pollinate the blooms at night. Bees and birds like the white-winged dove fertilize the flowers during the day.

Saguaro Fruit

The blossoms develop into brilliant crimson fruit after being fertilized. The fruit splits open to reveal luscious red pulp as it ripens. Up to 2000 tiny black seeds can be found in each berry.

Uses of the fruit

Many desert animals rely on ripe fruit as an excellent source of nutrition and moisture. Finches, woodpeckers, doves, bats, tortoises, javelinas, and coyotes are a few of these creatures. People consume saguaro fruit as well. Since they have inhabited the desert, Tohono O’odham Indians have been gathering the fruit.

Quick Fact

Less than a day is spent in bloom on saguaro flowers. They start operating at night and are open all day the following day. They only have that brief period to entice an animal to pollinate them.

Why do saguaro cacti die?

  • Andrew Carnegie, a philanthropist, is honored with the name of the saguaro cactus (Carnegiea gigantea).
  • Only in the Sonoran Desert can you find the saguaro cactus.
  • Saguaro cacti develop very slowly. An adult saguaro can grow to a height of 60 feet, yet a juvenile cactus may only grow 1 to 1.5 inches in its first eight years. Their growth is influenced by the water supply.
  • High-elevation saguaros typically cluster on warm, south-facing hillsides. Saguaro cacti cannot withstand freezing temperatures or frost, thus they are rarely found above 4,000 feet.
  • The pleats on saguaros enable them to expand as they consume water (like an accordion) and to contract when they run out of water. The number of pleats on the saguaro’s exterior matches the number of woody ribs inside the plant.
  • When saguaros are completely hydrated, they become incredibly heavy. Saguaros that are adults can weigh up to 4 tons.
  • A saguaro begins to bloom around the age of 35 and develops its first arm around the age of 50. A saguaro is typically regarded as an adult at 125 years old. The saguaro has a 150–200 year lifespan.
  • Saguaro cacti cells can occasionally mutate to generate fan-shaped crests in tangled patterns, though this is quite uncommon. Crests typically appear at the very top of the main stem.

Who or what consumes saguaro cacti?

There are numerous species that consume cacti. Among them are woodrats, camels, birds, iguanas, tortoises, beetles, and jackrabbits, among others. Cacti are consumed by people as well. Such animals have evolved specific defenses to prevent injury from thorns and toxicity from cacti poisons.

The majority have evolved behavioral, anatomical, and physiobiological defenses against the deleterious effects of cactus use.

Camels

Prickly pear cacti and jumping Chollas are enjoyable to camels (have extremely sharp barb and spines). They adore the pads and spines of cacti. They can practically digest any tough fibrous plant because they are ruminants.

They attempt to avoid the spines when they eat so they may enjoy the delectable insides. Their prehensile, sensitive top lips are present (split into two haves). Camel upper lips are manipulated, acting as a sense of touch.

Their leathery, thick lips prevent them from experiencing the cactus’ discomfort. To help them cope with the pain of cactus pricks, they also have fragments of skin inside their mouths.

Camel eating the spiky vegetation might occasionally be harmful. To enjoy the plant’s green sections, they do suffer the agony.

Packrats

They are often referred to as wood rats or trade rats. Packrats have huge ears, long tails, and large, black eyes, although they otherwise resemble rats. Although they adore eating the flesh of cacti, they always take care to avoid the spines.

Jackrabbit

Large-eared jackrabbits consume the base of cacti because they find this area to be juicy. They choose out areas with fewer or no spines to eat. In addition to eating fruit, jackrabbits also spread the seeds through their excrement.

Javelinas

They are also known as collared peccaries. Their long, pointed fangs stick out from their mouths. Javelinas mostly inhabit oak woodlands, desert washes, and saguaro and Palo Verde forests.

All varieties of cactus that can be found nearby are consumed by these creatures. They prefer to consume the spines of the desert prickly pear cactus as their major source of food.

Ground squirrel

One of the rodent family members is the ground squirrel. They don’t reside in trees; they live on the grounds. These squirrels range in color from tawny, gray, reddish, pale brown, to olive, or dark brown, and are more active throughout the day. They enjoy eating the cactus’ seeds and fruits, but they stay away from the spiky parts.

Prairie dogs

These rodents are herbivorous burrowers. White-tailed, black-tailed, Utah, Gunnison’s, and Mexican prairie dogs are the five species that make up this group. They turn to cactus as a source of food when they are out of options. They often eat the cactus’ base, blooms, and fruits.

Gila Woodpecker

They enjoy eating cactus fruits just as much as they enjoy devouring insects. The thorns are avoided by Gila woodpeckers. When building their nest or obtaining food, they use their pointed beaks to create cavities in the saguaro cactus. They have room and a good environment to grow their young in thanks to the saguaro cactus.

Eastern Cotton Tail

The rabbits of New World cottontails are called Eastern Cotton Tails. They resemble jackrabbits more. They enjoy eating the fruits and the cactus’ base. They contribute to the spread of seeds by their feces.

Galapagos Land Iguana

Because it is well adapted, this animal can consume the entire cactus. Its strong digestive system prevents it from experiencing any negative effects from ingesting the cactus spines. It removes larger thorns using the pad on its front paws before opting to take a few swallows of the cactus.

Which animals consume cacti?

Most desert animals rely on cacti as a rich source of fluids and as an excellent place to find shelter. Camels, rodents, rabbits, reptiles, coyotes, and specific species of birds like the Gila Woodpecker are among these creatures. Saguaro and prickly pear cacti are the two most popular varieties.

What kinds of animals consume saguaro cacti?

The saguaro cactus are home to a wide range of creatures. The pulpy flesh of the saguaro is where the gilded flicker and Gila woodpecker excavate nest chambers. Elf owls, screech owls, purple martins, finches, and sparrows might relocate into a woodpecker’s abandoned cavity.

The saguaro also serves as a breeding and hunting perch for large birds like Harris’ and red-tailed hawks. The huge saguaro’s arms are where they build their stick nests. The abandoned hawk nest may then be taken over by ravens and great horned owls.

Animals can benefit from the saguaro cactus as a valuable source of food. Saguaro blooms in the early summer offer bats with nectar and pollen, and the bats in turn pollinate the flowers. In Saguaro National Park, the Mexican Long-tongued and Lesser Long-nosed bat species are responsible for pollinating the saguaros. Ripe fruit provides moisture and an energy-rich food source for birds, bats, mammals, reptiles, and insects during the middle of the summer when food is scarce.

Pack rats, jackrabbits, mule deer, and bighorn sheep will also consume the juvenile saguaro’s flesh in dry sections of the Sonoran Desert if alternative water sources are not available.

Background

The Carnegiea gigantea saguaro cactus, which typically grows to a height of 40 feet, is the biggest cactus in the United States. The saguaro plays a crucial role in the Tohono O’odham people’s culture and offers food and shelter to a range of desert creatures. According to some reports, the saguaro can be ecologically related to almost every other species in its habitat, including people.

Ecology

Only in the Sonoran Desert of the United States and Mexico does the saguaro cactus flourish. Altitude and below-freezing temperatures restrict its range.

The saguaro’s body and arm-like branches have firm spines and bristles, and they are pleated and ridged. White flowers emerge in May and June, followed by bright-red fruits that may each contain as many as 2,000 tiny black seeds. Saguaros can weigh more than 6 tons because they are primarily made of water (759 percent of the plant’s bulk).

Animals and people both place a great value on saguaro cacti. Large birds construct stick nests among the saguaro’s arms, while little birds excavate nest chambers inside its pulpy flesh. Birds, bats, animals, reptiles, and insects can all benefit from the nectar, moisture, and nourishment that saguaro blooms, fruit, and flesh supply. The Hohokam people of the present-day Tucson region employed saguaros in their daily lives, according to archeological findings. The saguaro is a sacred plant that is used in ceremonies and as food by the contemporary Tohono O’odham, who are thought to be the Hohokam’s successors.

Saguaros grow slowly. A saguaro grows between 1 and 1.5 inches in the first eight years of its existence in Saguaro National Park; branches often start to sprout after 50 to 70 years of age. It could take up to 100 years for the branches to develop in drier regions. Saguaros attain adulthood at around 125 years of age and start to produce flowers around the age of 35. A saguaro’s lifespan is roughly 150–175 years on average, but certain species can live for 200 years or longer.

Status and Threats

The saguaro is a typical Sonoran Desert plant and is not a threatened species. The introduction of alien plants and habitat loss are the two major challenges to its current state that are caused by humans. Because they can both outcompete the saguaro and raise the risk of fire in a setting not suited to them, exotic plants, in particular buffelgrass, fountain grass, and red brome, are hazardous. Therefore, it is essential to regulate fire and exotic plants in Saguaro NP in order to keep a healthy saguaro population. Theft, attempted transplants, and vandalism are some additional dangers to saguaros.

What occurs if a saguaro cactus perishes?

Saguaro National Park’s original vegetation is suffocated by dense buffelgrass. Image from the National Park Service.

As we seek relief from a hot afternoon in the shade outside park headquarters, Stonum claims that it has the capacity to immediately outcompete any native Sonoran Desert plants.

If unattended, it will spread throughout the park, reaching elevations of 5,000 feet. This non-native grass might take the place of saguaros, creosotes, and all of the other perennial flowers we have in this area.

I glance around and shiver as I picture all these amazing desert plants being replaced by a meadow.

Conservation experts at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum are hard at work coming up with plans to address the buffelgrass issue in the Tucson Basin across town, just outside the western section of the park. Even one of them, Kim Franklin, published her dissertation for the University of Arizona on the subject.

She tells me that buffelgrass also competes with saguaros for available area. Fire is also brought.

Are javelinas saguaro cactus eaters?

Can animals eat cacti, which are succulent plants? It makes sense for animals to eat the fruits, but they also consume the spines in addition to the sweet fruit. Many different species of animals eat the pieces of cacti.

Camels, Galapagos land iguanas, jackrabbits, woodrats, Gila woodpeckers, tortoises, squirrels, javelinas, and prairie dogs are some examples of creatures that eat cactus.

  • Cactus with prickly fruit
  • Calypso saguaro
  • Container cactus
  • Peruvian cactus Cereus

The most popular type of cactus for animals to consume is typically the prickly pear cactus. The fact that their pads do not have as many spines or thorns as those of other cacti plants may be the primary factor.

Some cacti species generate milk that is poisonous. Never, under any circumstances, try to consume a cactus by yourself. Even if you are certain that the cactus is edible, it is advised to avoid taking a chance unless you have confirmation from a reliable source.

Camels prefer to consume jumping cholla and prickly pear cacti as succulents. All cacti parts—from pads to spines—are consumed by camels. These cactus are heavy in fiber, yet camels can digest these high fiber plants quite well because they are ruminants.

Unlike humans, camels don’t have the same kind of oral structures. Although papillae are also present in humans, they are significantly more brittle in camels.

Camels’ strong palates enable them to easily break down the jagged thorns without experiencing any pain. Isn’t that fantastic? Additionally, they modify the function of their upper lips during eating.

Camel upper lips are divided into two halves. They feel the thorns with their lips while eating and use that information to guide their inner mouth movement.

Jackrabbits

It’s fascinating to watch these amazing rabbits eat cacti while fluttering their long ears.

Jackrabbits can be seen primarily devouring the cacti’s surface. They are quite discerning and clever when consuming cacti plants, therefore they stay away from the areas with the most thorns.

Jackrabbits consume the fruits and seeds of cacti in addition to the base. The seeds are quickly sent out during defecation since they are easily digested by them.

Jackrabbits may be particularly susceptible to the thorns of cacti due to their soft jaws. As a result, they move down the cactus from top to bottom. Before taking more bites, take a few nibbles and thoroughly chew them.

Galapagos Land Iguanas

The Galapagos land iguanas consume flowers and the pads of cacti. They don’t have any trouble with the thorns, but they use their feet to break up the larger cacti’s spines.

They consume both flowers and pads. They carefully remove the spines because they don’t consume them.

The land iguanas of the Galapagos are exceedingly sharp. It is quite familiar with its surroundings and always removes huge cactus spines with the aid of its front feet! In a matter of minutes, it consumes the entire cactus in a few gulps!

Tortoises

Fruit, flowers, and pads are all edible to turtles. Nevertheless, the majority of the time they eat pads.

Even while cactus can be consumed by tortoises complete with their spines, it is preferable to remove the larger ones. The Opuntia species is the ideal food for feeding a tortoise if you have one at home. Tortoises may easily eat the pads since they are not overly prickly.

Tortoises may find it challenging to eat cacti with huge spines since they are less adaptable when eating cacti than camels. But they expedite and simplify the process for themselves. They use their jaws to take enormous bites. They can quickly and easily split a cactus pad in half. They thoroughly chew the cactus juice while tasting it with their tongues.

The Gila Woodpecker

All varieties of cacti fruits are a favorite food of Gila woodpeckers. In addition, these beautiful birds adore eating off the saguaro cactus’ branches.

The method they employ while pecking into wood is the same! They begin poking holes in the saguaro cactus’ sides with their pointed beaks. Instead of using these locations for food, they occasionally use them to seek safety and protection from predators and extreme heat.

Woodrats

Desert-dwelling woodrats consume cacti plants, avoiding the sections with spines.

Packrats and trade rats are other names for woodrats. They differ from conventional rats by having long tails and relatively larger eyes.

Thorns and spines are avoided. They eat the pads of cacti, primarily those of the prickly pear cactus, which also serves as a water reservoir for them.

Woodrats navigate amid the spines of cacti using their keen sense of direction and small size. But they also utilise the thorns in a useful way. These thorns serve as a fence around their homes to keep off predators.

Javelinas

Javelinas, also referred to as collared peccaries, rip apart cacti with their tusks and consume every part of it.

All cacti parts, including the fruit and spines, are consumed by javelinas. These animals can consume nearly every variety of cactus that gets in their way, but they often prefer to eat Saguaro and Prickly Pear cacti.

Javelinas have pointed tusks that resemble elephant tusks. They are able to destroy the cacti plants despite having teeth that look to be weaker and smaller than those of an elephant. Additionally, they can determine which parts of the cactus are edible by using their snouts.

Prairie Dogs

The most prevalent desert dwellers are black-tailed prairie dogs, which are more prone to eat cactus if there are no other food sources nearby.

American desert regions are home to prairie dogs. These lovely, adorable rodents are found in nearly five species. However, all varieties of prairie dogs share a fondness of eating plants because they are herbivorous.