8 Animals that Eat Cholla Cactus (Know How they Do!)

Animals that Eat Cholla Cactus

Which Animals Eat Choya Cactus?

It must be said that the mouth of these desert animals is equipped with keratinized papillae which strengthen the mouth against external aggressions, such as thorns. Some other animals naturally have this protein (like the rhinoceros) which allows them to eat branches without hurting themselves.

Cholla is a very tough desert plant that grows throughout the Southwestern U.S. and Mexico, and it has a lot of parts that both humans and animals find useful. The cactus has many edible and nutritious parts, which are eaten by many different types of animals.

If you’re interested in learning more about which animals eat cholla cacti, keep reading to find out.


The cactus gets its name from the Spanish word “choya,” which means “scratcher.” The cholla’s spines are sharp, which is why people sometimes use them to make jewelry and other accessories. Cholla can grow in shades from green to brown or even red. As with all cacti, their stems are actually water storage units for the plant. Their needles are also for protection against predators.

Cholla is mainly eaten by animals who can easily reach its fruits dangling from the branches. Some people think cholla tastes great, too! It’s common for Mexican families to eat nopal (the Spanish word for cactus), but you should never eat a raw cholla cactus because it would sting your lips and tongue so much that you could need medical attention. Instead, you should eat ripen choya cactus fruits or cook the fruit with some oil on medium heat until the needles turn dark brown, then serve it as a side dish with meat or over a glass of wine.

Land Turtles

We knew sea turtles that eat jellyfish, here are the land turtles that eat cactus. Decidedly, nothing frightens these amazing animals. It would seem that the presence of thorns on these plants does not bother them, even if amateur breeders tend to give them thornless cacti.

In the wild, turtles, therefore, eat cholla cacti slowly (it goes without saying). It should be noted that the lower leaves of adult cacti are often less prickly than the young shoots. 

Desert Pocket Mouse

The desert pocket mouse is commonly found in deserts across the US and Mexico. A desert pocket mouse is a small rodent that lives a solitary life in the desert, foraging for food at night and hiding in underground burrows during the day. They are omnivorous and eat a wide range of insects and small plants. They’ll also eat yucca, burrowed, and mesquite pods.

Cholla is one of their favorite foods due to its spiny nature. The pocket mouse uses its powerful forelimbs to rip off the smaller spines from the cactus before breaking off pieces of flesh with its teeth. 

Bighorn Sheep

For most of their lives, bighorn sheep and deer in the desert of New Mexico have little to eat. The cholla cactus is the only plant that can survive in the area, and they have adapted to gather their food from this prickly plant.

The bighorn has developed a lifestyle that takes advantage of the food and water available to them. They are able to get enough food by eating the fruit from the cholla cactus, without paying too much attention to its sharp spines. 


Jackrabbits are desert animals that enjoy munching on cactus. In fact, they thrive in deserts, where there is no other vegetation for them to eat—jackrabbits have adapted to live off of plants like cholla. It is a rather unusual diet for an animal, but jackrabbits don’t mind eating the spines that protect the plant’s fruit. They even grow back once the jackrabbit eats them!

Jackrabbits are common in New Mexico and they eat a wide range of plants, including cactus.

Their diet depends on which plants are currently in season, which is why jackrabbits that live in the desert enjoy the availability of cholla. Although these animals are small, they eat a lot of plants in a day. The average jackrabbit can consume up to one pound of cactus in a day.


Jackrabbits aren’t the only ones who like cholla cactus; peccaries also love eating it. Peccaries are pig-like mammals with big canine teeth and strong jaws, which allow them to break the tough skin around the fruit of the cactus (they can even consume bones). They use their snouts to dig out new shoots from under the sand, which they then eat.

A peccary is a medium-sized, hoofed mammal resembling a pig in the family Tayassuidae (New World pigs). They are found throughout Central and South America and the southwestern region of North America. These little wild pigs don’t seem to mind the thorns and even use them to scratch.


Cacti provide an excellent food source for iguanas. They prefer to eat the fruit and flowers to avoid the spines since the spines could hurt them. Even people with pet iguanas can feed them other parts of the jumping cholla as long as the spines have been removed.

Once again in the Galapagos Islands, some visitors have observed large iguanas feeding on cacti. these animals have a well-honed digestive system that allows them to digest thorns

Do Cows Eat Cholla Cactus?

While the thought of cows eating cholla cactus is strange to us, there’s actually a very good explanation for it. Cows are herbivores and need a lot of protein in their diet, but they also need carbohydrates. Prickly pear and cholla are both great sources of protein, but they also provide carbs—it’s a win-win for the cows!

If you’re wondering how the spines get taken off of the cactus before it’s fed to the cows, you’re not alone. The trick is to burn them off with flame, which makes sense because that’s how the cow would eat it in nature. Studies have been done on this topic (because why wouldn’t someone study this?) and it turns out that if you remove the spines from a cholla cactus, it’s actually a very nutritious food source for cows! While prickly pear is preferred by cows, studies have shown that cholla is also digestible in their stomachs. 

Which Other Animals Eat Cholla?

Cholla is an extremely tough plant to find in the desert. Not only does it blend in very well with its surroundings, but its spines protect it from almost all desert creatures. There are many animals that enjoy cholla and its seeds, however, since they provide a great source of food and nutrients. Almost every part of cholla is edible, which explains why it attracts so many different species, including beetles, ants, and even lizards. Some animals like the unopened flower buds while others prefer the nectar or the seeds. 

  • Squirrels
  • Tortoise
  • Bats
  • Javelinas
  • Bees
  • Hummingbirds ; other types of birds
  •  Black Bear
  • Baird’s Squirrel

Cholla is a very nutritional type of cactus plant. Although these plants are covered in sticky hollow spines, many animals have found a way to enjoy chollas without getting hurt.

The nectar from the cholla cacti also attracts many birds and bees, which can help with reproduction.

-The Baird’s Squirrel eats cholla buds and flowers to help them digest the quinones in their diet. Quinones are a toxic chemical that can cause damage to their kidneys if they aren’t digested properly. The flowers contain flavonoids which can help with this process.

-The Black Bear also eats cholla buds and flowers when it is in season in order to get an important nutrient called niacin. This nutrient is especially important when they begin hibernating in the winter so that they don’t suffer from pellagra, a disease caused by having too little niacin in their diet.

Bulls love cholla cactus, but so do many other animals like rabbits and squirrels. They come out during the day and eat them whenever they want to. 

The woodpeckers eat cholla cactus too, but they wait until they’re really hungry before they start eating them because they’re so hard to digest. The woodpeckers find that once they get used to eating them though, eating them regularly actually helps their digestion!

-Birds will also eat the cholla bud mid-winter as a source of food and water when there isn’t much left in other plants and trees. 

What Animals in the Sahara Desert Eat  Cholla Cactus?

The Sahara Desert is a hot, arid place—a far cry from the jungles of Central Africa or the grasslands of the American Midwest. Though this area has little to offer in terms of native food sources, it’s still home to some unique animals who have developed unique ways to survive. One such animal is the cholla cactus, which is so common in this area that it’s considered a “keystone species.” This means that without the cholla cactus, there would be no ecosystem: all sorts of plant and animal life would be affected.

During drought, animals will often go for the most common type of cactus, prickly pear. Animals such as deers, squirrels, birds, beetles, tortoises, pack rats, javelinas, antelopes, and jackrabbits all eat cactus fruit. Other times, farmers burn the thorns so that the cattle can feed on them.

Do Javelinas Eat Cholla Cactus?

It’s not hard to imagine why people assume javelinas (Pecari tajacu) are the natural enemy of cacti. They have a reputation for being omnivores, but they’re also said to eat plants like yucca and prickly pear. 

If those two facts aren’t enough evidence that they’d happily chow down on a prickly pear, the name of their subfamily might be: Peccaries are part of the pig family, known for eating anything and everything—and some species, in particular, have been known to nibble on cacti. 

The truth is that javelina diets vary depending on their location and what’s available to them. In some places, they eat mostly cacti and other plants—but that’s not necessarily because they want to; it’s only because there’s nothing else around for them to eat.

What Kind of Birds Eat  Cholla Cactus?

The distinctive spines on chollas make it hard for anything larger than a mouse to eat them. But the flowers are another story. Since they bloom in late summer and early fall when food is scarce, birds rely on them for food and a lot of it. The flowers produce copious amounts of nectar (a sugary liquid) that can be as much as 50% sugar by weight!

As a result, several species of birds are adapted to eat cholla flowers, including:

– Northern mockingbirds.

– Gila woodpeckers.

– Phainopeplas (a type of finch).

– Cactus wrens.


Cholla cactus may be spiky and intimidating, but it is an excellent source of nutrition for desert animals. These plants provide plenty of food for the rodents, birds, lizards, and insects that live in the region.

 The spiky plants provide plenty of food for jackrabbits, coyotes, and other small mammals. It’s important that they have access to it in order to survive.

Source: The Incredible Edible Desert

Anwar Hossain

My name is Anwar Hossain. I am a cactus lover, researcher, and cactus blogger.

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