Before you discard your fall pumpkins, carved or whole, take a closer look at them. You may discover that something has been nibbling on your pumpkins overnight. Many wildlife creatures love to eat pumpkins.
Deer are one of the animals that enjoy eating pumpkin throughout the entire growing season. They will eat young shoots, buds, blossoms, and the inner flesh and seeds, benefiting from the nutrition pumpkins offer them. Deer tend to leave the fuzzy vines and rinds alone since they are not palpable with their unique mouth anatomy.
Continue reading for more information about why deer enjoy eating pumpkins.
You will also learn how they eat and digest it, the benefits of recycling them, and how to offer pumpkins to deer for them to safely enjoy.
Can Deer Eat Pumpkin?
There are 43 species of deer belonging to the Cervidae family. All of them are opportunistic herbivores, meaning that they can take advantage of gardens and crops. Deer are not particularly fussy and eat lots of plants, including pumpkins.
However, they don’t like pumpkin vines and leaves. To understand why, we should take a look at a deer’s oral anatomy, stomach, and digestion.
A deer’s mouth has interesting anatomy. They have incisors and canine teeth for grabbing and breaking food, but they do not have front teeth on the top of their mouths.
Here, deer only have a bony and rough palate. This anatomy allows them to effectively rip fruits off branches or vines, or pick them from the ground. The bones and teeth then apply pressure to break food apart in their mouths.
Stomach And Digestion
Deer are considered herbivores, yet they are unable to digest grasses, foliage, and plant materials because they do not produce enzymes that break down cellulose.
Therefore, their four-chambered stomachs process the food that they eat, which includes pumpkin.
Food enters the rumen (chamber 1), where it is stored for softening. The softened food, called cud, is later regurgitated and chewed again.
The chewed cud then moves to and through the other stomach chambers: reticulum, omasum, and abomasum. Here the food is digested with the assistance of stomach microorganisms.
Because deer’s stomachs can’t break down cellulose, they generally avoid eating pumpkin leaves and vines.
Deer Diet: Pumpkins and More
Since deer are herbivores, they eat plant material and vegetation in the wild. This includes fruit, buts, twigs, alfalfa, leaves, and more, choosing foods that are high in protein and digestibility.
Pumpkins are not as readily found growing in the wild today, but deer will enter pumpkin fields to munch throughout the season. They eat the growing shoots, young fruits, leaves, and mature pumpkins that have softened or are broken open.
No Rind And Vines
The anatomy of the deer’s mouth can make it difficult for them to break through the rind or vines.
Pumpkins have tough skin on them and are smooth and round, bigger than twigs and leaves that are found in the wild. The rind is not toxic to the deer, but it is bitter and tough to chew.
Deer also do not tend to eat the fuzzy vines, which are difficult for them to eat with their mouth anatomy.
However, if the pumpkin is softened and cracked open, they can easily enjoy the inner flesh and seeds. Deer will also eat the foliage, buds, and flowers of pumpkin plants.
Deer love pumpkins so much that farms that grow them as commercial crops have to take steps to keep them out of their fields.
They may install a high fence, stake around individual plants, or spray a deer repellent around the perimeter.
Why Do Deer Eat Pumpkins?
The sweet flesh of pumpkins and the seeds offer nutritional benefits to deer:
- Pumpkin flesh has fiber, vitamins A, B6, C E, K, and the minerals copper, iron, magnesium, and potassium in it.
- The seeds have calcium, copper, magnesium, phosphorus, and zinc in them.
- Pumpkins are also a source of protein and are 90% water offering hydration to deer.
This healthy snack helps the deer maintain optimal health as they grow thicker fur for the winter, and develop strong bones and antlers, as they prepare for reduced food sources in the cold season.
Offering Pumpkins To Deer And Other Wildlife
Pumpkins can offer you a great way to enjoy visiting wildlife in your backyard. Hunters will even plant and grow pumpkins to attract deer to desired areas.
Deer, squirrels, porcupines, possums, foxes, and raccoons enjoy pumpkins. If you live in areas with a bear population, keep in mind that food left out, such as pumpkins, may also be enticing to them.
You may also see larger birds, such as blue jays, cardinals, and catbirds, enjoying pumpkin seeds. Late-season butterflies and nocturnal moths will also visit the pumpkin pieces.
In zoo settings, otters can play with floating pumpkins, primates will figure out how to open them to get to the treat inside, and sand cats like to hide in them.
Carnivores don’t eat them but will play with them like a ball, especially if they are stuffed with meat. Animals will smash them and take them apart to investigate the pieces.
“Pumpkin play” offers animals mental, intellectual, and sensory stimulation, preventing them from becoming bored, stressed, or depressed.
Composting pumpkins or offering them to wildlife is a much better option than throwing pumpkins away to end up in a landfill.
As pumpkins decompose, they emit greenhouse gas, called methane. This can negatively impact the environment when there is large emission in concentrated areas, such as landfills.
Methane is 80 times stronger than the impact of carbon dioxide on the environment, with 16% of methane emissions coming from landfill waste.
By composting and leaving the pumpkin flesh out for wildlife, the environment reaps benefits such as:
- Improved soil health
- Reduction of greenhouse gasses
- Recycled nutrients
If you wish to leave your pumpkins out after the Fall season for deer and other wildlife, keep a few considerations in mind before you do.
- Carved or painted pumpkins: If pumpkins are carved for Halloween, remove any candles, wax, and burnt areas. If they are painted or have glitter and other materials on them, do not give them to wildlife as these could be toxic to them.
- Pesticides: Your pumpkins may have toxic pesticides on the skin. Give them a thorough wash before placing them out to eat.
- Split or cut the pumpkin: Split or open up the carved pumpkin into large chunks with the rind facing down. Cut whole pumpkins into large chunks.
- Mold: If the pumpkins show any signs of mold, discard them into the trash or compost them since it could make wildlife ill.
- Wooded or field areas: Consider placing the pumpkin pieces in forested areas or at the back line of your property, giving deer a large and open safe space.
- Pumpkins will also invite a host of wildlife, including rodents, that you may want to keep away from your home, other garden vegetation, garage, shed, and basement.
- Recycling ideas: The National Wildlife Federation offers creative suggestions to recycle pumpkins. These include composting, making a “snack-o-lantern”, and more.
Deer enjoy consuming pumpkins throughout the growing season.
They tend to avoid the fuzzy vines and rinds since they are difficult to chew and digest. However, deer will eat young plants and blossoms, as well as mature pumpkins that are cracked open.
Pumpkins offer deer a nutritious snack as they prepare for the harsher winter months when food becomes scarce.
Composting or offering recycled pumpkins to deer benefits both wildlife and the environment.
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