I have an outdoor container garden in Southern Illinois. The pepper plant is on a raised level, surrounded by untouched tomatoes, carrots, spinach, onions, and squash. I have never seen anything like it. The stems and leaves are all gone. This took place overnight during a 12 hour period, give or take.

leaf damage


At this point all I can offer is that this looks like bunny rabbits, rats or...deer. Maybe they ate a pepper and it burned and they left. My guess would be rodents, rats. Keep an eye on tomatoes and eggplant. If they leave the fruit and all you see are chunks taken out, it'll be rats. If the fruit is gone, then deer. Let us know where you live, are you near greenbelts? You can get cheap deer fencing, actually a plastic, woven mesh. Rats are another story. Try traps I guess but where one dies there will be 10 to replace it.

There are also gadgets that when their sensors detect movement they will cause sprinklers to suddenly go off, scaring the critter away. These are great for deer but I am not familiar with these things working on smaller bodies like rats. They can do a lot of damage, I know! Do any of your neighbors have cats they allow outside? Perhaps you could talk to them and tell them you'll start feeding their cat at night, set up a little bed...

Let us know if you have anymore problems...more pictures?

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    Can rats eat that high? Around here, they break/bend the plant over at the base to get the leaves. Also, trapping can be very effective in dealing with local pest communities, if ten rats move in to replace a trapped one, trap them in turn, and so on. Now I have 0 rat damage, low deer, groundhog, vole, mole, and skunk damage, but still plenty of bunnies (it's harder to kill a cute enemy). – J. Musser Jul 15 '14 at 0:18
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    Once again, the scale thing is tough. To me this looks like a 6" wide pot with nice sized cayenne peppers. Rats can be big, the size of bunnies. I see leaves that something pushed downward, wish I knew the size. Need to ask OP (?) to add a coin in the picture or something for scale. I can't stand to kill anything, think you know that by now, grin! Maybe mosquitos and flies...sigh! – stormy Jul 15 '14 at 0:42

We had rats eating our pepper leaves and stems. We put out a trap and caught one and put out another one and caught a second one. They even ate chunks of the peppers.

  • Hi Karen, Thanks for sharing, and welcome to the site. Could you also tell what part of the world you are from? – J. Chomel Jul 3 '17 at 7:14

It's difficult to say without evidence, but this kind of damage could be caused by a tomato hornworm or a tobacco hornworm. They can defoliate your plants fast (and they'd probably only target your peppers, tomatoes and other related plants). You may see some caterpillar poop on or near the plant, though.

Tomatoes and tobacco are both related to peppers, and the hornworms will eat pepper foliage (including that of hot peppers).

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