Do Rattlesnakes Eat Cactus in The Desert?

You may be wondering if rattlesnakes or other animals living in the desert munch on cacti, and the short answer is yes and no.

Rattlesnakes do not eat cactus plants directly but often use it to their advantage when hunting smaller prey like rodents and birds.

However, some cactus species are edible, and animals certainly try to sink their teeth into the fruits they produce, which are excellent food sources full of essential nutrients the animals need to survive.

To form a better idea about the role cactus plants, play in the desert in helping animals stay safe from predators and use them to their advantage when carrying out their hunting strategies, we must first understand what cacti are and how significant their role is in arid and barren lands like the desert.

Cacti are thorny and succulent plants that have developed adaptations that allow them to survive in harsh climates by retaining moisture.

They are also protected from predators because of their prickly and spiky features, which can injure animals trying to get to the juicy fruits at the top.

Let’s explore whether rattlesnakes eat cactus plants and if there are any other animals that feast on the succulent flesh of these resilient plant species.

Cactus Plants and Their Characteristics

Cactus plants have developed a thorny exterior to ward off animals so they can survive for many years in harsh desert environments, and many animals have learned to use cacti to their advantage when seeking shelter or hunting prey.

Cacti have special roots that are closer to the surface and can find any traces of water in the soil, allowing them to survive for long periods of drought.

When deserts experience rainfall in the monsoon season, cacti can easily retain the water and store it in their flesh while using their waxy layer to prevent the water from evaporating away.

Since water is stored for several months in cacti, they can use the moisture to survive in dry seasons, which is one of the primary characteristics of a cactus, giving them an edge over other plants and allowing them to survive for many years.

There are thousands of cactus species in the wild, and each species has unique adaptations that allow them to thrive in its specific environments.

You can find cactus plants in various shapes and sizes, and the most resilient species is called the Saguaro cactus, which can live up to 200 years.

The saguaro cactus can grow longer than a double-story building and have wooden rods in its center that allow the plant to support its weight and structure.

The trunk-like stem found in cacti helps retain moisture for several weeks and months, depending on the species, which is an important survival tactic that allows them to face the onslaught of dry weather conditions with relative ease.

Many animals in the desert use cacti plants for shade, and woodpeckers are notorious for digging holes in a saguaro cactus’ trunk for them to nest and breed their young.

The saguaro desert is the most versatile cactus species out there and easily heals from the injuries these birds inflict on its exterior, providing a safe haven that shields the birds inside, allowing them to stay protected against predators.

Another interesting survival strategy that involves the saguaro cactus is used by owls, who use these holes and abrasions in the trunk to their advantage once the woodpeckers leave to lay and hatch their eggs.

You can expect to find these holes or Saguaro Boots in dead cactus plants that can still be used by birds for habitation.

These holes can be more than 2 feet long, allowing birds to stay cool and protected against predators by burrowing deep within and using the moist pulp and thorny skin to survive in barren desert conditions.

Young saguaro plants need the support of older cacti to help them grow by receiving their nutrients and using the older plant’s thorns to stay protected from plant-eating animals.

You might be surprised to know that a foot-long saguaro cactus can be 25 years old, which is mind-boggling considering how tall these cacti grow to be.

Another interesting aspect of the saguaro cactus, which is found in the deserts of Arizona and Mexico, is that when spring ends, it blossoms with beautiful flowers that bloom for a day at the top of the plant, allowing insects, birds, and other small animals like bats to feast on the pollen they provide.

After sometime during the beginning of summer, you can expect to find many fruits beginning to pop up on the saguaro cactus, which are ripe and ready to eat by animals that feast on the juicy fruit.

Even humans utilize these fruits for making treats like jam and salsa, which go well with other food options like tacos and bread.

You can expect to find doves in the desert that find these fruits and feast on the seeds and juicy pulp of the saguaro cactus, receiving water and moisture from the fruits that keep them sustained in the harsh desert climate.

Despite the saguaro cactus having hundreds of seeds in its fruit, only a few find their way into the soil and birth new cactus plants because most of them are eaten by birds, other small animals, and insects.

The seeds that fall to the ground will use the shade from bigger cacti to grow without succumbing to predators, but there are still some animals that can eat these young plants and prevent them from maturing into the mighty saguaro cactus.

Other factors can also inhibit the growth of these young plants, such as the weather getting extremely cold at night, which means that conditions must be perfect for new cacti plants to survive in the desert, and there is an element of luck at play.

Once large saguaro cacti die and begin to rot, you can expect to find more than 400 species of insects living inside the cactus and feeding on the rotting flesh, such as beetles, flies, and mites.

These insects are then hunted by other creatures such as spiders and scorpions, playing their part in the food chain.

Animals That Survive Using Desert Cacti

Camels are one of the most resilient animal species that can survive desert conditions by eating cacti, which is possible due to their hard mouths that protect them against the prickly cactus spines.

Once the cactus is grinded by camel teeth, it is easily swallowed without damaging the camel’s throat.

Rattlesnakes can climb cacti plants while avoiding being stabbed with the prickly thorns to hunt prey like birds and rodents, allowing them to utilize the cacti to their advantage.

These snakes do not actively seek out cactus plants for food because they are not herbivores, but they can detect prey that feast on the cactus’ fruits and find their way into the saguaro boots, which are home to many birds like the woodpecker and flicker bird.

Smaller cacti species like the cactus wren are unable to harm rattlesnakes because they are not as thorny as other species, allowing rattlesnakes to capture birds with ease without becoming injured in the process.

This is an exceptional survival strategy based on knowing where their prey is likely to be found, which the snake has learned through millions of years of evolution.

Rattlesnakes are quite deadly to humans and other animals like deer and antelope, which steer clear from these dangerous reptiles that have a characteristic rattling sound that makes their presence known to others.

A rattlesnake is unlikely to bite a human or other larger animals that are not part of its diet unless it is threatened, which means you should not go out of your way to find one.

These snakes do not lay eggs, but rather the female carries the young for three months in its womb before giving birth to live snakes, making them ovoviviparous.

Although most rattlesnake species are fairly safe, one particular kind has been deemed as life-threatening by relevant authorities.

The fundamental way these snakes find and hunt their prey using cacti is by their climbing skills, which enable them to sneak up on unsuspecting victims and devour them whole.

Other animals that eat the fruits produced by desert cacti include screech owls, bats, peccary, squirrels, woodrats, jackrabbits, coyotes, and many more. 

Final Verdict

Cacti plants are very resilient and can survive barren conditions in the desert with ease, allowing them to live for several decades and stay protected against predators by using their survival adaptations to their advantage.

The scarcity of water is difficult to deal with for most plants and animals, which is why cacti are one of the most common plants found in the desert.

Rattlesnakes do not directly eat cactus plants because they are mainly carnivorous; however, they can climb the less harmful cactus plants with relative ease in search of smaller prey.

Snakes are found in every corner of the desert, and rattlesnakes are particularly dangerous, especially when threatened, which is why humans should make a point to stay away from these reptiles.