Many of my perennial garden plants have been getting eaten by some animal. Possible culprits include deer, rabbits, and groundhogs. I would like to control them, but I have to know what I am controlling. for example, I don't want to start trying to control rabbits when deer are the problem. How can I find out what is eating them so I can match control to culprit?

  • Wouldn't some fencing be generally useful? Except, of course, for voles. Darn you voles!
    – uncle brad
    Feb 7, 2012 at 0:01

2 Answers 2


As well as looking for droppings and specific damage, there are number of other options depending on how much time and/or money you have:

  • Old fashioned stake out
  • Live traps (these will work for rabbits, groundhogs, etc. Even voles if you can find some very sensitive traps of the small solid-sided variety. Deer are more of a problem. You need an idea of the animal size, or deploy traps of various sizes.
  • Motion detector cameras.

All three of these are used by the professionals. If you are so inclined (ie. make your own electronic gadgets), then motion detector cameras could be quite a hobbiest DIY project.

  • thanks, for the answer. I have a havahart live trap, and only used it once, to catch a forty pound coon that was eating a quart a day of cat food. We shot him, buried him and planted a tree on top. Anyway, how should I bait the trap, and what with?
    – J. Musser
    Feb 22, 2012 at 14:41
  • Bait will depend on the animal: in my experience, woodchucks are hard to trap. I know someone who uses a can of sardines to catch skunks -- and a possum accidentally using the same bait. Obviously you're not going to trap a deer this way.
    – bstpierre
    Feb 22, 2012 at 14:51
  • Yes I think deer will be more of a problem. I assume large enough traps exist, but not exactly easy or cheap. MrsWinwaed (ecology prof) baits her mammal traps with peanut butter. I think that is considered a general catch-all although there may well be exceptions. We've also very successfully, used cat food for oppossums.
    – winwaed
    Feb 22, 2012 at 15:49

If you have soft soil around the plants that are being eaten, you can figure out what the animal is by looking at the tracks left behind -- the difference between a rabbit and a deer will be obvious.

Height is another differentiator. Groundhogs, for example, are unlikely to eat the tips of the branches of your apple tree that are 4' off the ground. Voles might attack from underground.

Droppings are the last way I know of to figure out what is eating plants. Last summer, for example, I thought I had a woodchuck sneaking through a gap in my fence and nibbling on my peas. But when I patrolled the fence looking for the gap, I found skunk turds.

If you find tracks or droppings that you aren't familiar with, a google image search will usually turn up something useful.

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