Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Mayapple Feast

I returned to a place I had just visited the previous day to find that something had eaten a substantial meal of Mayapple plants.  I know that all of the plants were untouched the night before, so this was the result of a single night’s activity.

Other than loss of the fruit, I rarely see any damage done to Mayapples.  I was curious as to the identity of the culprit.  Three notorious plant eaters came instantly to mind:  Cottontails, Groundhogs, Whitetail Deer.  The feast consisted of several plants.  The heights of the remaining stalks suggest that in some cases, very little of the plant was actually consumed.  This doesn’t seem consistent with the feeding behavior of the Cottontail.  Cottontails bite a stalked plant off at the base and then sit upright while eating their way up the stalk.  They rarely eat from the top down to the ground.  I imagine their feeding method allows them to watch for predators while feeding. 

Groundhogs have a feeding pattern that’s similar to that of Cottontails.  If they were not going to consume the leaf, they would eat the stalk right up to the base of the leaf and leave little or no stub.  With an almost machine like proficiency, a Groundhog would have left each leaf with the same amount of stem attached.

The partially cut, partially torn stub makes me lean towards deer.  Deer are the most likely animal to leave varying lengths of stem both on the leaves and standing from the ground.  I’ve also watched deer leave this same type of bite signature on many different types of plants.

I still don’t know why an animal with constant access to Mayapples would suddenly make this one time assault on the plants.  Maybe the plant corrected some dietary deficiency present in the animal.  The single meal may have brought the deer back into normal balance.  I’ll probably never know for sure.  Many discoveries just leave me with a lot of unanswered questions.

Just up the hill from the Mayapples and in plain sight of my location, a group of Wild Turkeys engaged in courtship activities.  I saw them look in my direction, but they never stopped what they were doing or attempted to move away.  This bunch includes four Toms who are regular visitors to my yard.  They move out of the yard when I’m around, but come right back when I leave.  Now they seem to be getting used to my presence where ever we happen to meet.  I guess they don’t realize that there are a few more days left of Turkey season and they should be a little more wary of anything wandering around on two legs.


  1. Have you considered CCTV to identify culprits? ;)

  2. Hi Lois. I’m afraid that the budget doesn’t allow such extravagances.

  3. Would you believe last summer when I visited out in California, I actuall saw Turkeys down in the lower deserts in native Mesquite Bosques ?

    Who would have thought. Glad you didn't go away.

    Kevin *smile*

  4. Hi Kevin. Ohio biologists were surprised when turkeys in this state flourished in habitat far different than what was considered necessary. I think turkeys could live anywhere. I wouldn't be surprised to one day see them become an urban nuisance.