Native animals are so amazing in the ways they’ve adapted to survive within our ecosystem! Did you know that white-tailed deer can survive eating most toxic plants in our area? Deer are often seen foraging on huge amounts of nightshade, poison ivy, pokeweed, and hemlock with no apparent ill effects. They’ve even been known to become addicted to the psychoactive effects of some poisonous plants!
There are several ways deer survive eating poisonous plants. One of the most interesting involves immediately eating clay, soil, salt licks, or natural mineral deposits immediately after ingesting poisonous plants. These compounds help to neutralize some of the toxins and to activate special bacteria in a deer’s first stomach that help digest the poison.
Deer are also known to carefully mix up their diets in a way that keeps them from overloading their bodies’ defenses against poison. One study of mule deer— close relatives to our native whitetail deer— found that they can eat two times as much of a poisonous plant if they mix other plants into the meal. They may even instinctively browse on plants that contain natural antidotes to a poisonous plant.
Aren’t deer incredible?