What is Eating My Plants at Night?
Have you ever wandered into your garden late at night? It’s a different world.
It’s alive with creepy crawlies. Don’t let the small size fool you.
One hungry caterpillar can eat holes through multiple leaves in a single night. So can slugs.
As for animals, a deer can do a magic trick by making a fully-grown bush disappear entirely.
When you wander into the garden to find bite marks on the edges of leaves, holes going right through them, half-eaten fruits scattered around, or entire shrubs chewed to a pulp… you have to know what has been done it.
Continue reading below to learn about the various nighttime garden raiders that never know when to stop.
What is eating my plants at night?
Wildlife that feeds at night includes rabbits, deer, squirrels, chipmunks, voles, woodchucks, groundhogs, and skunks. They do a lot of damage. But so do insects. Nighttime-feeding insects include caterpillars, Mexican bean beetles, flea beetles, Japanese beetles, the tarnished plant bug, and slugs.
Nocturnal sharp-toothed wildlife
A few animals fit the bill for this category of plant-eating wildlife—namely, rabbits, deer, chipmunks, squirrels, voles, and woodchucks.
Each can devour the plants in your garden right down to the stem.
Even then, voles can munch that, too, making the roots disappear. You’d need to be highly unlucky to your garden to turn into a wildlife sanctuary at night, literally.
Deer and rabbits do the most damage
If you find most of a plant mysteriously vanishes, a rabbit or deer is likely responsible. Those eat all parts of the plant except the roots.
Voles destroy plant roots
Roots are eaten by voles and sometimes a chipmunk. Signs of those hanging around your garden at night are burrows in the ground.
Skunks could eat your plants, but they’d rather dig for grubs
Another animal that will dig holes in your garden is a skunk. They might eat your plants, but they’re more likely to stomp on them to dig the ground to hunt for grubs.
How can small cute animals do that much damage?
As cute as they are, don’t give squirrels a chance to eat your plants. They will return. Again, again, and again.
Squirrels gnaw on all leafy greens for the same reason rabbits do. To keep their teeth down.
Squirrels, groundhogs, and woodchucks tend to go for the large leafy green plants, chew on vegetables, and take bites out any fruits you’re growing in the open.
Fruits are a preference for squirrels and woodchucks, and they’re fond of eating the petals of petunias.
Insects that strip the leaves from your plants
During the night, your garden comes alive.
A huge number of insects feed on plants under cover of darkness.
Caterpillars, cutworms, slugs, the potato beetle (which eats more than potatoes), the Mexican bean beetle, flea beetles, the Japanese beetle, and the tarnished plant bug.
Each can do some real intensive damage to most of your garden plants.
If you see holes in the leaves of your plants, look on the underside of leaves late at night (like after 10 pm) for caterpillars or cutworms.
Any worm on the leaves of plants at night is up to no good.
Remove them and toss them in your compost pile.
The potato beetle
The potato beetle eats any plant in the nightshade family. Plants this beetle goes at hard are potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, and petunias.
These beetles feed at night. They’re oval-shaped, only about three-eighths of an inch long, and have a yellow shell with black stripes.
The two main types are the three-lined potato beetle and the Colorado potato beetle with narrower black stripes and many more of them.
Both are equally devastating to plants.
The Mexican bean beetle
The Mexican bean beetle is the same yellow color but doesn’t have stripes. It has a yellow shell with 16 black spots (if you care to count them).
They’re oval-shaped and about a quarter-inch long.
Imagine a ladybug with jaundice, and that’s what the Mexican beetle looks like.
It’s related to the ladybug, and that’s the prey to set about these.
Ladybugs eat the larvae of the Mexican bean beetle, which is the part that does the most damage.
The larvae of the Mexican bean beetle eat through the leaves of any type of bean plant, from soybeans to lima beans and legumes. That’s only their preference.
Given a chance, they’ll feed on any vegetation.
If you see these around at night, a simple solution is to plant another low-maintenance vegetable to distract this pest.
Whatever you don’t like that they do, use it as a trap plant. For example, sacrifice a kale plant, some garlic, or maybe a beet or two.
Put a row cover over the beans you’re having problems with.
Flea beetles and Japanese beetles
Other adult beetles that eat holes through your plant’s leaves are the flea beetle and the Japanese beetle.
Flea beetles eat small holes in the leaves of plants, leaving them with a shothole appearance.
The Japanese beetle completely devours the leaves, skeletonizing them.
The tarnished plant bug
This gets its name for its distinct tarnished brown color with green markings. This is a bug that ruins every plant it comes into contact with.
If you start seeing small brown spots on the leaves of the plant that then die, there’s likely a tarnished plant bug (or a few) nearby.
The adults and the nymphs eat into the leaves, but unlike aphids, thrips, and similar mites, these will kill the leaves they feed on.
As they eat into plant tissue, they release a toxin that kills the injection site they bite into.
At first, it’s tiny small dots. But as the leaf grows, healthy parts of the leaf growth and the brown spots enlarge, leaving it malformed.
The tarnished plant bug eats all sorts of plants. Not just the leaves. On fruits, like tomatoes and strawberries, when that same toxic substance gets into the fruits, it causes catfacing – fruit malformation.
Of all the crops grown in the US, half are susceptible to being ruined by the tarnished plant bug: fruits, vegetables, and flowering plants.
Slimy slithering slugs eat chunks out of plants. They do a lot of damage for their small(ish) size. Not just on the leaves but on flowers too.
The higher the protein in a plant, the bigger its target to a slug.
Read more about what is eating your plants in the garden.
Frequently Asked Questions
What insects are predatory that won’t eat my plants?
Beneficial insects include tachinid flies, soldier beetles, ladybugs, and lacewings. Each feeds on smaller-sized pests like mealybugs, aphids, and mites. The solid black-colored ground beetle preys on caterpillars and slugs.
How do I stop things from eating my plants?
Trap plants or trap crops are the most effective long-term fix. You’ll struggle to stop animals and insects from eating your plants, so the next best thing is to give them something else. Trap crops are sacrificial plants. Different plants attract different animals and insects.
The animals that eat your plants at night are rabbits, deer, squirrels, chipmunks, voles, woodchucks, groundhogs, skunks, and nighttime-feeding insects, including caterpillars, Mexican bean beetles, flea beetles, Japanese beetles, the tarnished plant bug, and slugs.
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Daniel has been a plant enthusiast for over 20 years. He owns hundreds of houseplants and prepares for the chili growing seasons yearly with great anticipation. His favorite plants are plant species in the Araceae family, such as Monstera, Philodendron, and Anthurium. He also loves gardening and is growing hot peppers, tomatoes, and many more vegetables.