There is a lot of planning, planting, and care that goes into growing lettuce. This is the reason it can be so upsetting when you notice damage to your lettuce crop.
So, what animals eat lettuce?
The animals that might be eating your lettuce include herbivores like rabbits and deer, other animals including skunks, groundhogs, turtles, and rodents, insects like caterpillars, crickets, aphids, and other bugs snails, and slugs. Knowing what damage to look for can help you identify the culprit and find the best solution.
Below, we’ll take a look at the many animals and bugs that could be chowing down on your lettuce plants, as well as their eating habits and signs that they’ve been in your garden.
Herbivores and Other Animals That Eat Lettuce
Some of the critters that eat lettuce out of the garden are herbivores, meaning they only eat plants. However, some other animals that enjoy lettuce are omnivores, meaning they eat insects, small animals, or other foods as well.
I’ll note that while some of these animals eat lettuce in other parts of the world, this article focuses primarily on critters eating your lettuce in North America. Lettuce thrives year-round here during the cool part of the growing season, so it’s grown in different states depending on the time of year.
There are also other animals that eat lettuce, however, they aren’t often found in people’s backyard gardens. Therefore, critters like alpacas, guinea pigs, monkeys, chickens, pigs, and ducks didn’t make this list.
Rabbits are generally associated with a love for carrots, but it’s actually greens that they chow down on. They love all types of lettuce, so don’t be surprised if they’re the ones chowing down on the different lettuce varieties in the garden.
While rabbits eat lettuce, the variety of lettuce matters, too. Rabbits cannot eat too much iceberg lettuce because it contains lactucarium, which is toxic to rabbits if they eat too much and causes stomachaches. Since iceberg lettuce is toxic, it would make sense that wild rabbits would eat other lettuce varieties or grass shoots instead and leave the iceberg to other critters.
In some cases, you’ll see the rabbits enter your garden. While some people think they are nocturnal, rabbits actually are crepuscular. This means they nap a lot during the day but are still awake, and you’re likely to see them come out at sunset.
Deer are big munchers and unlike the rabbit, they don’t really discriminate when it comes to the different varieties of lettuce. Lettuce is also a favorite of theirs, so if you wake up to most or all of your lettuce eaten- look around for deer tracks!
Like rabbits, though, many deer are either nocturnal or crepuscular. This means you’re most likely to notice them eating lettuce out of your garden at dawn or at sunset when crepuscular animals are most active.
Squirrels and Chipmunks
Squirrels can be found all over North America, foraging for food and hiding in trees. While people most often associate squirrels with seeds and nuts, they are actually omnivores with a wide variety of foods that provide nutrition to their natural diet.
Among these many foods squirrels prefer are lettuce and other greens. Squirrels love fresh fruits and vegetables. For people unfamiliar with commercial farming, you might be surprised to learn that squirrels are one of the biggest pests that farmers have to repel to prevent their lettuce crop from being depleted.
Chipmunks, which are a member of the squirrel family, also like to eat lettuce. You’ll notice damage from chipmunks is similar to what you’d see from mice and rats because they like to dig in the soil looking for more food. However, burrow holes from chipmunks will be bigger.
Turtles are another critter that might frequent your backyard, but generally, they aren’t there to stay. These critters have a home range, which is usually about a 1.5-mile radius around the place they were born. They travel slowly, so they probably won’t visit your garden every night.
The good news is that turtles are notoriously slow eaters, so even if a turtle has stumbled along your lettuce crop, odds are they won’t do a ton of damage. Plus, turtles are solitary creatures with the exception of reproduction, so it’s likely they won’t invite other turtles into your garden like rabbits or deer might.
Raccoons are scavengers, which basically means if there’s an opportunity to eat, they are going to take it. This includes when they come across vegetables in a garden and raccoons are particularly voracious eaters when it comes to munching on lettuce.
Because of their appetite, raccoons are also a pretty serious threat to commercial lettuce farmers as well. Unlike some of the other animals mentioned that prefer the tender, leafy part of lettuce, raccoons will eat and destroy the entire lettuce stalk.
Woodchucks (or groundhogs) eat bugs and pests that might eat your lettuce. However, they also eat vegetation including alfalfa, clovers, dandelions, and unfortunately, your lettuce plants.
You’ll notice a groundhog has been in your garden if there are signs of chewing on the leaves closest to the ground. Groundhogs also damage the roots of the plant while they’re eating, which can kill your plants.
While skunks don’t seek out lettuce specifically, they might get into any plant beds that are close to the ground when fruits and vegetables are close to being ripe. Otherwise, they prefer to eat insects and small animals.
Skunks also might rip up parts of your garden in search of insects and grubs. You’ll know a skunk has been in your yard (and garden) if there are patches of grass ripped up and obvious signs of digging.
Voles and Other Rodents
Voles, rats, and mice are all possible lettuce munchers. The difference is that while rats and mice will eat the entire lettuce plants, voles are more likely to eat the roots.
This can be disastrous considering plants might grow back when their leaves are eaten, but cannot grow without their roots. Additionally, voles live in a colony, so where there is one, there’s often more. They’ll eat any of your garden roots- not just your lettuce.
The animals are all borrowers, so you’ll see holes in the soil near your plants. With mice, there are more likely to be small chew holes in the leaves. Rats eat the leaves and gnaw through the stalk.
Insects and Other Animals
There are a lot of bugs that chow down on plants, however, caterpillars, crickets, aphids, beetles, snails, and slugs are all likely culprits when it comes to what might be eating your lettuce.
Caterpillars can eat a lot between the time of their birth and when they retire into a chrysalis to become a butterfly. Often, they’ll leave a lot of holes in your leaves– so many that they resemble Swiss cheese.
Caterpillars also leave behind a slimy, wet substance called caterpillar frass. It is usually brown or green in color and is noticeable on most varieties of lettuce if you are looking.
There are many caterpillar species that eat lettuce, including cabbage worms, owlet moth caterpillars, cabbage loopers, and cutworms. Cabbageworms often hide on the stalks of vegetables and become butterflies, while the other caterpillars mentioned become moths and are nocturnal, so they feed at night.
Crickets are voracious eaters and adult crickets spend all summer laying eggs until the ground finally freezes. Once baby crickets emerge, they aren’t picky eaters. They’ll devour anything that is soft enough for their mouths.
The reason lettuce is a common target for crickets is that juvenile crickets emerge right around the time lettuce leaves start growing. That being said, unless you have an infestation, their presence might actually do more good than harm because of how nutritious their waste is.
Surprisingly, the damage from aphids isn’t necessarily caused by these insects eating the plants. Aphids require a lot of moisture and they get that by piercing plant leaves and sucking them dry.
The problem with aphids is that they are really small and hard to detect. Plus, they travel in large groups so it doesn’t take much for them to decimate a plant.
The way that aphids feed takes away the nutrition that a plant needs to grow, so it often causes wilting or stunts a plant’s growth. Aphids also leave your plant susceptible to disease because of the damage to the leaves.
Like aphids, there are many beetle species that cause damage to plants. Flea beetles and darkling beetles are two species known to eat lettuce.
Beetles are most likely to leave behind damage called “shot holes”, which appear like a lacey pattern on leaves. They also spread viral plant diseases like aphids can.
The major challenge with beetles is that they burrow in the ground and lay larvae, so even when you get rid of beetles more can emerge later on. Since they prefer young leaves, this is especially a problem at the beginning of the growing season when beetles are starting to emerge from the ground.
Snails and Slugs
Snails and slugs aren’t really insects, but they are closer to bugs than they are to the other animals we’ve talked about so far. Both of these critters like to eat lettuce because of its high water content.
Slugs prefer the lower leaves of lettuce and never eat the head. It isn’t necessarily their favorite thing to eat though, so sometimes they’ll move on to other nearby plants instead.
If it’s a snail that is getting into your garden, you’ll notice a snail trail on your lettuce leaves. This will look like stringy pieces of lettuce that are leftover from the snail eating. They prefer the young leaves and buds found in plants.
What Eats Lettuce in a Garden?
Lettuce is a great garden vegetable, particularly since it’s considered one of the easier crops to grow. It thrives during the spring and falls when temperatures are cool.
Plus, lettuce seems to be a favorite among some of the critters commonly found in gardens. Some animals that eat lettuce in a garden include herbivores like rabbits and deer, as well as omnivores like turtles, voles, rodents, squirrels, chipmunks, woodchucks, and skunks.
Common garden bugs may also be the problem, including insects like aphids and certain species of moths, as well as slugs and snails.
How Do I Know What Animal Is Eating My Lettuce at Night?
With some animals, there are telltale signs about whose been munching on the lettuce in your garden. Deer might leave behind tracks, while certain animals dig in the soil. Noticing certain chewing patterns or which parts of the plant that is eaten can also help you identify the culprit.
The amount of lettuce that’s being consumed at night can also give you clues about what is eating your lettuce. Animals like voles, rabbits, or deer are likely to eat a substantial amount of lettuce, while the damage that appears slowly is likely to be insects, snails, slugs, or maybe even a turtle.
There’s a lot of hard work that goes into maintaining a garden and lettuce is far from the only veggie that hungry critters will go after. When you see that something has been chowing down on that hard work, it can leave you wondering what animals eat lettuce plants so you can solve the problem.
Knowing which animal is chowing down on your lettuce is really going to help you decide how to deter them. I won’t get into safe ways to deter these critters right now, but identifying the problem is always the first step in coming up with a solution. Hopefully, this article has helped!