Do Deer Eat Zucchini? Is it Safe for Their Diet?

For survivalists, growing their own food is imperative for self-dependency in having some readily available healthy foodstuff. Among the options, zucchini is grown widely, as it is rich in vitamins, minerals, and other nutritional elements. However, the fear of wild deer running through the field and eating all the plants is always there. So, a question that arises in the mind of the landowner is – Do deer eat zucchini?

Though zucchini is not preferred much by deer due to the tiny hairs on their leaves and low palatability, they go for it if none of their other favorite foods like beets, cabbage, or beans are available. In the winter, when other food resources are hard to find, deer can be seen near zucchini.

Eating zucchini in a limited quantity can be beneficial for the deer as it is rich in vitamins, minerals, and other nutritious elements. However, in the long run, it can be extremely dangerous on account of the following factors

  • Zucchini is rich in fiber, and the deer have low cellulose digestible capacity
  • Zucchini is very low in calories
  • The chemical pesticides used in planting zucchini can harm deer’s health.
  • Zucchini, having a large quantity of cucurbitacin, can be poisonous for the deer.
  • Zucchini is low in protein.
leaves deer

Do Deer Eat Zucchini?

Zucchini, also known as courgette, is a summer squash in the Cucurbitaceae plant family. These are loaded with nutrients including Potassium, Riboflavin, Manganese, and Vitamins A, C, & B9.

For a survivalist, growing zucchini can be highly beneficial. These are easy to grow and can be eaten raw, so one doesn’t have to fire up the stove or worry about the smoke from the fire. On top of it, these are bug-resistant and can be stored for a long time.

Deer being voracious eaters aren’t welcomed to a vegetable garden, especially if beets, cabbage, beans, or broccoli are grown since they love them.

Yet, they have been found to repel away from certain herbs, fruits, and vegetables. These include vegetables with potent smells, like garlic; thorny vegetables like cucumber; and those that have hairy peels, like certain varieties of squash.

Zucchini has thus been found to repel deer as they have tiny hairs on the leaves and the stems. However, they practically eat anything when wild food supplies are low, and so they may go for zucchinis. They even eat more of it in winters when other options are scant.

Is zucchini safe for their diet?

Zucchini does offer some benefits in the short run; however, it may prove harmful if consumed for long.

100g of zucchini provides…

Nutrition Quantity
Calories 17k
Protein 1.21 Grams
Fat Less than .1 Gram
Carbohydrate 3.1 Grams
Sugar 2.5 Grams
Fiber 1 Gram
Vitamin A 40% of the Reference Daily Intake (RDI)
Manganese 16% of the RDI
Vitamin C 14% of the RDI
Potassium 13% of the RDI
Magnesium 10% of the RDI
Vitamin K 9% of the RDI
Folate 8% of the RDI
Copper 8% of the RDI
Phosphorus 7% of the RDI
Vitamin B6 7% of the RDI
Thiamine 5% of the RDI
https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/169291/nutrients

Benefits of Zucchini

zucchinis plant

Rich in Vitamins

Zucchinis are rich in  Vitamins A, C, D, K, B9, and B12. These vitamins can boost their immune system.

A deer’s liver stores a high quantity of Vitamin A as a reserve for the winter when the diet will be deficient. Vitamin D present in the zucchini can promote the retention of calcium and phosphorus in the blood and the tissue. Vitamin K bolsters their reproductive ability, and B12 acts as an antioxidant.

Rich in Minerals

Zucchini are highly rich in certain minerals like calcium, phosphorus, potassium, and water, which are nutritional for deers. Calcium facilitates the development of teeth, bones, and overall growth, and potassium assists in osmotic pressure, acid-base balance, and nerve transmission in the deer’s bodies.

The deer need a phosphorus level of 0.2 to 0.3 percent, which can be fulfilled through the zucchini as it is very rich in it. And the 95% water composition of zucchini can not only assist in the metabolic process but can also maintain the body temperature of deer.

Rich in Antioxidant

Zucchini is very rich in antioxidants. These elements, namely lutein, zeaxanthin, and beta-carotene ward off the free radicals from the deer’s body that may cause oxidative stress.

A yellow zucchini usually contains a high level of antioxidants in comparison to a green one.

Trace Elements

Zucchinis also contain trace minerals which can be very helpful in maintaining the long-term health of the deer. These elements assist in blood synthesis, enzyme formation, maintaining hormone structure, and a better immune system.

If a deer lacks these trace elements, it might suffer from impaired health and reproduction issues.

Why shouldn’t deer include it in their diet?

Cellulose Digestion

Cellulose is a type of insoluble fiber having thousands of glycosidic linkages.

A deer’s digestive system highly depends on the cellulose content of its diet. Though deer are ruminants, they have a limited capacity to digest cellulose. And higher the cellulose, lower the rate of overall digestion and vice versa.

Zucchini is highly rich in both soluble as well as insoluble fiber. The cell wall of this plant, which connects the cell and the tissue, contains a high amount of cellulose.

The digestion takes place in their four-chambered stomachs, the chambers being the rumen, the reticulum, the omasum, and the abomasum. As the food enters into their mouth, they just chew to swallow it initially.

The food then enters the rumen, one of the most important places where the special bacterias and enzymes break down the various forms of cellulose for digestion. It is full of microbes that contribute substantially to get nutrition from the food.

Thereafter, the cud or partially degraded food is regurgitated into the deer’s mouth where it is re-chewed, and it then enters the reticulum. There, the fermentation begins, and the anaerobic microbes further break down the cellulose into digestible components.

After that, the digestible components enter the omasum, where the glucose and other components get absorbed. The undigested cellulose is secreted in the form of poisonous gas methane.

Thus, it is clear that the deer need to use their bodies’ nutrients to digest cellulose-rich foods like zucchini. And since they take a long time to digest, such food is kept in the rumen-reticulum for a longer time than the easily digestible foods which ultimately limits the consumption of other nutritious foods.

If such a limitation occurs for a long time, it can lead to malnutrition, and the deer might face death due to starvation even with a full stomach.

Therefore, zucchini is not suited for deer.

High Level of Starch

Starch is a complex carbohydrate made by plants to store energy. It is considered a significant source of energy for deer.

Zucchini is rich in starch, especially that which grows in the summer. However, a large amount of starch may not suit the digestive system of deer.

The microbes present in the rumen attack the starch and ferment it more rapidly as compared to the other portions of the diet. It may result in a deer’s rumen getting acidic, which is too dangerous and can end up turning the entire body of the deer acidic.

Further, due to the rapidity of the process, the internal surface of the rumen sometimes gets damaged, which ultimately allows the bacteria and other toxic material to enter the deer’s blood and may result in the deer losing its life.

Low in Energy

Since zucchini is very low in calories, it might not suit a deer. Zucchini provides only .17 kcal per gram.

A diet containing digestible energy of approximately 2.75 kcal per gram is considered ideal for the deer. But, the zucchini is way behind in this.

Deficiency of energy for the short term may not be a concern for deer. However, a long-term deficiency can result in halted growth, weight loss, weak immune system, increased mortality, and failure to conceive.

A mature deer needs a high amount of calories in the winter and the breeding season. In extremely cold temperatures, some fawns may die due to a deficiency of energy.

Use of Heavy Pesticides

person using pesticide

Since zucchini is usually produced with the use of heavy pesticides, its high consumption can prove extremely harmful for the deers.

Heavy exposure to pesticides can result in neurotoxicity, endocrine disruption, and developmental changes in the deers. Further, the chemicals can accumulate in fat and weaken their immune system. The reproduction capacity can also deteriorate due to this.

Furthermore, the microbes present in the rumen may get damaged due to the pesticides and the deer would then have to face a lot of trouble in extracting nutrients from the food.

Poisonous Cucurbitacins

flower plant zucchini

The zucchinis contain a naturally occurring compound called cucurbitacins. This compound is mainly found in the Cucurbitaceae family, such as squash and zucchini.

When this compound is present in higher quantities, it gives the zucchini a very bitter taste and is very harmful to deer’s health. Zucchini high in cucurbitacins can be poisonous and may result in the death of the deer. The wild zucchini are more likely to have this bitter compound.

The primary reasons for high cucurbitacins are mutation with the plants and inadvertent cross-pollination. Further, growing zucchini in high temperatures, dryness, and other stresses may increase this poisonous compound.

Low in Protein

Protein is an essential element for growth, weight, and milk secretion in the deer and is needed throughout life.  Though the microbes in their rumen can produce protein, getting it from outside sources is also essential. The zucchini is low on protein as a zucchini on average has 1.2 grams of protein which doesn’t fulfill the requirement of deer.

Final Thoughts

Deer do not prefer zucchini in general. However, they may be found eating it in case there is an acute shortage of food they prefer.

Zucchini may be beneficial to some extent if eaten in limited quantity and not often, but it is not safe for their diet in the long run.

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