By D. Lopez, This Week in the Garden | Do deer get high? 

Peninsula Premier Admin

The hydrangea, day lily and camellia flowers have been eaten, it is not a ridiculous question to ask.

This came to mind when imagining what humans put in their systems, that deliberately make them feel unwell, but then gladly repeat the behavior. It appears that, at times, wildlife can be guilty of the same thing. The warmest month of the year is here and I think of the peak blooming period of flowers and berries. My trail cam is fired up. Let’s see what happens.

The largest sunflower is missing in the side yard. All is forgiven. Let’s just plant another one. Although, no matter what we plant, animals, like the rest of us, enjoy variety. Like humans, they make mistakes. Animals don’t care what plant guides say they do like, or don’t like, they will take risks too if their food sources are scarce. This is occurring more often with diminishing habitat.

In various parts of the U.S., birds have been known to become intoxicated with ripening berries. Blackbirds and cedar waxwings have been seen flying under the influence. Fruit bats of Central America are also susceptible to intoxicating evening gatherings. No surprise, squirrels are also accused of occasional public drunkenness, due to mulberries or other fruit. An old article from the Washington Post once reported “Squirrel gets ‘drunk’ causes hundreds of dollars of damage.”

In the state of Michigan, corn toxicity is a fatal situation for deer and elk. The excessive  consumption of grain causes an escalated level of lactic acid where the animal develops acidosis or enterotoxemia (overeating disease). Corn and other domesticated grains are carbohydrates that do not include the woody substances of their usual diets. The problem arose from public feedings to help with animal viewing.

A family member reminded me of a pet rabbit, Easterby. He ran loose in the backyard during the day, and went into a hutch at night. Easterby would nibble on fallen rose petals in the garden, then run about crazily soon after. Perhaps it was sheer joy, or could the rose petals have contained something that elevated his energy levels? He was a moody rabbit, so it was good he found his own medicine.

In general the smell of fermented fruit will attract most every animal you can imagine, insects,  mammals, birds and humans. When the barbecue of yesterday lingers overnight with wine  glasses on the deck, wildlife visitors will visit during the night. When your compost bin is not  properly secure, you will certainly draw a crowd. Now that some communities take kitchen scraps in the green recycling bins, these bins might need to be weighted on their lids.

The human and nonhuman diet are not interchangeable. Although your dog did not die from the cheese puffs you tossed him, it doesn’t mean that their system really runs well with it. The  expression “sicker than a dog,” came from somewhere. A childhood memory of my dog Blue—  is of me on the backyard swing, eating a fudge ice cream. Every time I was on the upswing I took a lick, and on the downswing my dog took a lick. It is human to project our abilities onto animals, but it is not so safe for them.

Oddly enough, deer, squirrel, rodents, turtles and other wildlife can eat many things that would kill us. There are mushrooms that are highly toxic to humans, but cause no harm to animals. Nature’s situation is wonderful here; what might harm us is left alone by humans so that animals can forage to survive. Deer can eat huge amounts of hemlock, nightshade and even poison ivy without illness. Their trick is to mix up their diet and chase it with clay soil, and natural minerals to neutralize toxins. Deer have a four-chambered stomach, with one for storage called a rumen, they can manage diverse foliage. This explains their ability to eat non native plants and survive. According to the wildlife nonprofit, For Fox Sake, deer in particular seem to be attracted to the psychoactive effects of some poisonous plants.

All judgment aside, animals do get high. It is however infrequent and points to certain seasonal plants and circumstances. Unfortunately, there are casualties in many instances just as with humans. If there is enough safe natural habitat and food sources, the likelihood of animal tragedies might diminish.

With every writing, I try to convince my fellow gardeners to  find environmentally sound ways to keep the balance. My garden was created especially for wildlife. Perhaps, yours was not; it is a service to grow plants at all. A good thing. If I prize a plant, I practice camouflage gardening. When the deer stop by, I will not worry, I will be glad that they are in a safe place.

Contributed by local news sources

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