What eats trees? It’s an important question whether you are keeping animals, or trying to keep them away from your gorgeous canopy or glorious vineyard! Today we’ll share what eats trees, from their bark, to the wood, leaves, roots and shoots. We’ll look at everything from insects to birds, mammals, as well as various livestock, pets and pests.
Why Do Some Animals Eat Trees?
When you really stop to think about it, trees can be pretty tasty – and not just for wild animals or insects! Trees can produce nuts and seeds, fruits and flowers, berries and even syrup that people love to eat.
Tree bark can be quite nutritious as well. The outer bark layer is edible but tough. However, hidden beneath is a softer layer called cambium. Cambium is loaded with nutrients and moisture. Plus, trees can put out quite a buffet spread of small insects and animals to attract hungry larger animals.
What Eats Trees?
Animals that eat trees come in all shapes and sizes, with feathers and fur and scales and more. Tree eating animals have unique digestive adaptations to help them get nourishment from tree parts.
What Small Wildlife Eats Trees?
Trees are a surprisingly popular source of nourishment for a lot of different small animals in the wild.
Many different birds will eat tree parts. Woodpeckers use their powerful beaks to bore through bark to get tasty insects. Sapsuckers do the same, but their goal is the sweet tree sap. Hummingbirds then come along to feed from the holes the sapsuckers drill.
Beavers rely on trees for everything, including food and shelter and protection. A single beaver can destroy hundreds of trees in one year.
Boar, also called feral pigs or hogs, love to eat the softer roots of trees as well as the nuts and seeds trees produce. These powerful animals will uproot whole young trees to eat their roots.
Gophers are burrowing mammals. They will encounter and eat tree roots as they are constructing their underground tunnels and eat low level tree bark when they are above ground.
Mice prefer the softer inner cambium layer of trees and will seek out fruit trees and other thin-bark tree types to eat.
Porcupines will eat all tree parts, concentrating on softwood trees like pine, redwood and cedar whenever available.
Rabbits and hares will eat tree bark as high up as they can reach, sometimes killing young trees in the process.
Rats are partial to fruit trees and enjoy all parts of these trees. In lean times, rats will eat all tree parts to survive.
Squirrels are notorious for the damage they cause to trees. As true omnivores, squirrels favor seeds and nuts but will eat any tree parts. Squirrels also nest in trees.
Voles look like a cross between a mouse and a gopher. More than 100 species exist and all snack on trees, preferring the tender bark of younger tree species.
What Large Wild Animals Eat Trees?
Lots of big wild animals eat trees too. Bears, moose, primates, racoons, giraffes, elephants, pandas and kangaroos. Even deer will eat foliage of bushes, shrubs and trees as far up as they can reach. They will also eat pine needles and pinecones as well as tree bark.
Livestock That Eats Trees
Livestock like sheep, goats, cattle and equines will all browse on tree parts as far up as they can reach. Sheep can make quick work of hedgerows and even damage trees in their fields.
What Insects Eat Trees?
Insects can do a lot of damage to trees. But to an insect, they don’t see a tree as a landscape feature or investment. They just see food and shelter. Interestingly, many insects form a symbiotic relationship with a tree. An example would be an insect that lives in the tree and eats other tree pests in exchange for shelter, food or materials. But other insects may simply strip the tree of nutrients or useful materials and move on.
Different types of trees may attract different types of insects. If you are not sure what is eating your tree, it is always smart to ask a locally knowledgeable arborist for help. These are the general categories of insects that use or eat tree
- Scale insects
When ants visit trees, they are typically seeking water, food or shelter. It can be good to know that ants are typically only interested in tree bark or wood that is already decaying. So if your tree attracts ants, it may already be in trouble or be late in its life cycle.
The Adelgids are aphids with soft bodies. Adelgids are attracted to coniferous trees like pine, fur, hemlock, spruce and larch. They use their tiny mouthparts like a straw to slurp out plant juices and sap.
Aphids also visit trees to drink sap. These small hard-bodied insects produce honeydew, a sap-like liquid that in turn attracts other insects like ants that like to eat the honeydew.
Of all the beetle species that may visit or dwell in trees, bark beetles are perhaps the most damaging. Bark beetles eat the bark and also incubate their eggs underneath the tough outer bark layers.
How do borers get to a tree? Beetles, moths and other insects will lay eggs and the borers are the larval stage of those other insects. They chew the bark or fruit of trees for food and moisture as they grow.
Caterpillars are the larval stage of butterflies and moths. Some caterpillars prefer to eat tree leaves while others go for the bark and softer inner tissues.
When adult cicadas visit trees, they have one thing on their mind: laying eggs on the underside of leaves. When the young cicadas, called nymphs, hatch, they bury into the tree roots and suck out the liquid.
In most cases, moths only damage trees during the caterpillar stage of life by feeding on the leaves. But the damage some moth species can cause is extensive.
A scale is an insect that eats tree sap. Some scale species are soft-bodied and others have armor. All have thin needle-like mouths designed to act like tiny funnels as they suck out the sap.
Termites are some of the most damaging insects that eat tree. These insects can literally eat a tree from the inside out.
Weevils eat trees during the larval and adult life stage. Adult weevils will fall to the ground and “play dead” if caught munching on tree leaves.
Tree worms are typically caterpillars – an interim lifestage for a moth or butterfly.
What Eats Trees?
Now that you know what eats tree, you will be better equipped to care for your trees and respond quickly to any signs of ongoing damage or infestation.
Learn More About What Animals Eat
- What eats corn?
- Which animals eat eggs?
- What eats grass?
- Wild cat diet
- What do wild boars eat?
- What Animals Eat Hay?
- Moon et al. “Injury to Trees from Animals: Squirrels & Other Small Animals.” Texas A&M Forest Service,” 2022
- Brown PhD, “Animal Damage to Trees: Nuisance to Damaging.” University of Saskatchewan, 2018.
- Chaney. “Why Do Animals Eat the Bark and Wood of Trees and Shrubs?”Purdue University Cooperative Extension Service, 2003.