5 Insects That Deer Eat (And Why They Eat Them)

White-tailed deer close up

You might be surprised to learn that deer actually have a much more diverse diet than just plants. It includes certain insects you may not like making a home in your yard!

Deer prefer to get their nutrients from plants and other foliage, but they are omnivores and will eat insects if necessary for survival. While insects will never make up the larger part of a deer’s diet, they are known to eat caterpillars, spiders, aphids, flies, beetles, and more.

Deer can be a part of naturally occurring pest management, although you might not want to rely on these animals alone to take care of insect pests. With that said, you’d be surprised to learn about all the different insects they do eat. 

Key Takeaways:

  • Insects make up a small portion of a deer’s diet.
  • Deer mostly eat leafy plants but will also consume caterpillars, spiders, aphids, flies, and beetles.
  • Deer may help with pest management due to their omnivorous nature, but should not be relied on to control insect populations.

* This post contains affiliate links.

The Most Common Species Of Deer

Various species of deer are found throughout the world, and many species happen to inhabit different regions. For the purposes of this article however, we’ll be placing the majority of our focus on deer that live in North America (although they can be found elsewhere in the world). 

While their appearance may vary, many of these species reach similar sizes and have similar habits, especially when it comes to their dietary habits. 

Here are the most common species of deer found in North America:

  • Mule deer
  • Moose
  • White-tailed
  • Brocket deer
  • Caribou 
  • Elk

While all of these species are found throughout North America, white-tailed deer and mule deer are undoubtedly the most common. 

White-Tailed Deer

White-tailed deer are iconic, and it only makes sense, considering their markings and their ability to be found throughout the northern hemisphere. In fact, the beloved Disney deer Bambi was modeled after a white-tailed deer. 

These deer are from the family Cervidae which has two groups – Capreolinae and Cervinae. White-tailed deer are a part of the latter. White-tailed deer are so named because they have recognizable white spots surrounding their eyes and nose, on their throats, stomachs, and the underside of their tails.

An article from the Journal of Mammalogy tells us that, in the United States alone, there are around 11 million white-tailed deer, with around ⅓ of that population residing in the state of Texas.

Mule Deer

Mule deer are another of the most common deer species in North America, and they’re known to primarily inhabit areas in the western states. They’re more often found in warm, desert climates, although their appearance does bear some similarities to that of the white-tailed deer. 

Mule deer also have some white patches in their fur, namely on their rear and tails, although the white patch is accompanied by another small black patch. The most distinguishing feature of these deer is their large ears- similar to those of a mule, which is where they get their common name. 

Because mule deer live in western, desert-like areas, they have adapted their diet to fit the resources available to them. That means that instead of feasting on zinnias or lush shrubbery, they tend to graze on plants like desert grasses.

If you’re curious about deer, we have a unique article on where deer go and live during the day.

So, What Do Deer Typically Eat?

Deer are kind of like the goats of the woods. That is to say, they eat a lot of different things, and while they may have their preferences, they’re not terribly picky when they need to eat. 

Deer Mostly Eat Greens

Deer need to eat between 6-8% of their body weight in greens to maintain good health every day. However, you may be surprised to learn that deer eat other animals too! While this article is focused mainly on insects, you can read about the animals that deer eat here.

Deer typically eat food that falls into three different categories:

  • Forbs – plenty of greenery, broad-leafed plants
  • Browse – stems, leaves, woody parts of plants
  • Mast – Seeds and fruits such as apples and acorns

As you may have noticed, most plants and parts of plants are included in a deer’s diet. Because deer have four-chambered stomachs, they can digest an extremely wide range of foods. Deer can even eat mushrooms and other fungi. 

Do Deer Switch Up Their Diet Depending On The Season?

Spring & Summer

In spring and summer, deer have a larger range of foliage and crops available to them, and that means they can be a little pickier about their diet.


In winter, deer will eat just about anything, and thanks to their stomachs, they can afford to eat whatever will give them sustenance. This includes foods like saplings, dormant plant bulbs, berries, buds, and the less appetizing leaves they may avoid in spring. 

You can read more about the places deer go during the winter to learn more about their winter habits.

Of course, insects are bound to become a part of this diet, whether the deer target the insects or not. As the deer eat plants and foliage, there are inevitably insects on them, and the deer eat those right along with the plants. 

5 Insects That Deer Eat

While many of the insects that deer do eat are consumed accidentally while they’re eating plants, deer do sometimes eat insects as a food source.

It’s worth noting that bugs never really make up a large portion of the deer diet, although deer also sometimes prefer certain insects over others. The largest portion of the bugs that deer eat are also those that are more likely to be on the plants they prefer. 

Pretty much any insect that’s on their chosen plant and cannot move away fast enough is certainly fair game! Wondering why animals in turn eat deer? Check out our article on the animals that eat deer here.

1. Beetles

Beetles are one of the largest categories of animals in the world. Some beetles are extremely beneficial to their surrounding ecosystems, while others do great damage to the plants and trees they feed on.

Bark-boring beetles can cause some pretty big problems for trees, especially if they target only one type of tree, and that tree is slow to recover. If deer eat those pesky beetles, then they can play a part in mitigating the damage to the tree (although deer shouldn’t be considered a full solution for an infestation).

Two stag beetles on a branch in the sun

Ground beetles are plentiful throughout North America and can be found just about anywhere that plants are. 

Ground beetles tend to be small, with only the very largest reaching one inch in length. However, most are usually only about ⅛ to ½ inch. They’re not fun to find inside your home or office, but they do feed on other insect pests, making them fairly helpful. 

If you’re looking for a way to get rid of beetles in your garden, don’t depend on deer to eat them! Instead, check out our fantastic guide on the simple ways to get rid of leaf beetle larvae.

2. Flies

Flies are those incredibly irritating insects that seem to show up wherever and whenever you’re trying to enjoy good weather or a nice meal. They’re certainly opportunists, and that’s one reason you can find them just about anywhere that isn’t sub-zero weather year-round. 

That means that flies inhabit just about everywhere on earth. 

fly landing on banana

Flies are small yet frustratingly fast. These insects contribute to pollinating some species of plants, and as a result, you can find them feeding on any kind of foliage, fruit, or other food sources. 

Because they can quickly fly out of the path of danger, flies aren’t always part of a deer’s diet, although, with their sheer numbers, it’s certainly not out of the question. If you’d rather keep fly numbers down, you can read about effective ways to use cloves to keep flies away.

3. Aphids

If you garden or grow crops, this is an insect whose name you probably loathe to hear. Aphids are indiscriminate eaters, although there are plants they certainly prefer over others. Many a gardener and farmer have spent countless hours trying different remedies to salvage their plants from an aphid colony. 

If you’re scratching your head wondering why aphids are in your garden or yard, scroll over to our article on the reasons you have aphids in your garden.

Much like flies, aphids will take up home just about anywhere there are plants and crops. Aphids come in several different colors including brown, green, yellow, gray, and black. These insects are quite small, and it can be difficult to see a single aphid without a close-up look. 

A rhubarb plant leaf infected with black aphids

Aphids often dwell on trees such as maples, willows, pines, poplars, and linden trees.  The honeydew that aphids excrete in their waste is a sticky substance that often attracts other insects that feed on it, such as ants.

Sure, deer will incidentally eat some aphids, although you shouldn’t rely on them to get rid of an entire colony. Instead, try a solution like this Pure Neem Oil from Neemorganics.

4. caterpillars

Caterpillars are squiggly creatures that most people don’t exactly adore until they reach their final form: a moth or butterfly. There are exactly as many types of caterpillars as there are different types of moths and butterflies. These insects start as larvae and grow into larger caterpillars.

Once reaching the caterpillar stage, these insects eat mostly leaves and tend to rest on the same plants that they feed on. 

Caterpillars feeding on a cabbage leaf

After enough time and feeding, they begin making a cocoon called a chrysalis. This is also called the ‘pupa’ stage. This stage is where metamorphosis begins.

It’s rather uncommon for deer to eat moths and butterflies. However, they will sometimes ingest caterpillars. Because caterpillars are slower than their mature, flying counterparts, and they often reside on leaves (which deer need as part of a healthy diet), they are inevitably part of a deer’s food source, even if it is just by accident. 

Wondering how to get rid of caterpillars without depending on deer? Check out our piece on the things to do if you have caterpillars in your garden for more guidance.

5. Spiders

Of all the insects (or in this case, arachnids) that deer eat, you’re probably most surprised to learn that they sometimes do eat spiders. However, spiders are also the least likely to be targeted by deer as they forage. 

Yes, deer sometimes eat spiders. Like with many insects, deer typically just pick these up with whatever food they’re digging through and eating at the time. 

Adult Female Silver Garden Orbweaver in her web

Even when eaten incidentally, the spiders that deer consume are far outnumbered by the insects. However, it happens often enough that spiders do deserve at least a small mention on our list. If you want to get rid of spiders, a simple solution could be black pepper! How? Head over to our article on ways to use black pepper to keep spiders away to find out!

What Insects Do Deer Like Eating?

To say that deer enjoy eating insects might be an overstatement. Most of the insects that deer consume are eaten by accident. Basically, the insects just happen to be on the plants, leaves, or fruits and berries that the deer were going to eat anyway. 

Remember, because deer have four-chambered stomachs, they can digest nearly anything. Naturally, this means that they have no problem using the nutrients from the bugs they eat along with their other food sources. 

Deer Seek Larger Insects In Times of Scarcity

Deer don’t typically seek out insects for food, and most species of deer are considered to be herbivores. 

The exception to this rule applies to most animals and most food sources. In times of very scarce resources and food supplies, deer will seek out certain insects in their desperation to get sustenance. 

If a deer were in such dire straits as to seek out insects for food, it’s unlikely they would seek out minuscule insects such as aphids or ants. Instead, it’s far more likely that they would look for insects like beetles and caterpillars (although deer have been seen eating spiders on occasion as well). 

What Foods Do Deer Actively Avoid?

Deer are built to digest an incredible range of plants, fungi, and more. However, just because they have a four-chambered stomach doesn’t mean that they want to eat every plant or food available to them. 

In the case of deer, their food also supplies a large portion of their hydration. That means that they may turn to foods they usually won’t eat if they’re hungry, but also if they can’t find a fresh source of water. 

Deer Avoid Meat

Deer are far from picky, although there are foods that deer are known to avoid. 

It’s well known that deer more or less avoid eating meat, although they will sometimes consume insects as they forage for plants. In fact, if you’re having trouble with deer targeting your plants and eating up your garden, you can deter them by planting foods they actively avoid. 

Deer Won’t Eat Certain Plants

Despite being mostly herbivores, there are some plants that deer avoid over others. They may consume these if they’re really hungry, but under most circumstances, deer will turn their noses up at these plants:

PlantReason Deer Won’t Eat Them
LavenderStrong aroma and bitter taste deter deer
Russian SageStrong scent and bitter taste repel deer
YarrowBitter taste and strong scent discourage deer
Lamb’s EarFuzzy texture and bitter taste deter deer
SageStrong aroma and bitter taste repel deer
SalviaAromatic oils and strong flavor deter deer
Bee BalmStrong scent and pungent taste discourage deer
Bleeding HeartToxic compounds and bitter taste deter deer
DaffodilsToxic to deer if ingested
FoxgloveToxic compounds and bitter taste deter deer
Globe ThistleSpiky texture and bitter taste deter deer
PeonyBitter taste and toxic compounds deter deer
Black-Eyed SusanBitter taste and strong scent discourage deer
HelleboreToxic compounds and bitter taste deter deer
Butterfly BushStrong aroma and bitter taste repel deer
CatmintStrong scent and bitter taste deter deer

You can use these plants in a couple of ways to try to ‘deer-proof’ your garden. Some people prefer planting these flowers, herbs, and vegetables in a perimeter around their property. Or, you can plant them throughout your other, more appetizing plants. 

Remember that deer-resistant plants aren’t a guarantee, especially when deer struggle to get their preferred foods. With that said, they can be a natural and somewhat effective way to minimize damage to your plants. 

Herbs That Deer Stay Away From

In general, deer don’t like the more fragrant herbs. These herbs can be overwhelming to deer initially because of their scent, and after that, because of their strong flavors. 

Some of the main herbs deer avoid include:

  • Sage (most varieties)
  • Chives
  • Garlic
  • Onions
  • Mint (and several related species)
  • Leeks
  • Fennel
  • Dill

Keep in mind that planting these doesn’t guarantee that your garden will be deer-proof. Like any other species, deer will consume things they typically avoid when they’re in times of great food scarcity. 

As a side note, strongly scented herbs are so effective at repelling deer that there are even deer repellant sprays that will help protect your other plants from foraging deer. If you don’t want to plant these herbs, but want the benefits of deterring deer, try the I Must Garden Deer Repellent: Mint Scent

Hint: Mint isn’t the only scent deer dislike. Check out our guide on using vinegar to deter deer!

Deer Avoid Certain Vegetables

Deer do love their fruits and veggies, but there are some that they’re more reluctant to eat. When vegetables are growing, there is typically a surplus of food available, meaning deer can pick and choose what they want and will likely avoid things they don’t like.

Deer turn their hoof up at certain vegetables for several reasons. The vegetables may have a strong scent, require effort to obtain, or have a hairy or prickly exterior. 

Deer-resistant vegetables include:

  • Potatoes
  • Carrots
  • Eggplant
  • Tomatoes
  • Radishes
  • Asparagus
  • Horseradish
  • Beets
  • Peppers (many varieties)
  • Chard
  • Brussels sprouts

Note: while deer are reluctant to dig for root vegetables, they seem to like eating the leafy green tops of some of them (especially carrots). 

Flowers That Deer Leave Alone

Believe it or not, there are also some flowers that deer aren’t all that eager to eat. Much like other plants deer avoid, many deer-resistant flowers are either highly fragrant or have some level of toxicity

Deer-resistant flowers include:

  • Peonies
  • Lavender
  • Daffodils
  • Poppies
  • Foxglove (some varieties)
  • Irises

If you plan on using these flowers to deter deer from your other plants, make sure that you’re able to provide the requirements they need to grow properly, and then place them strategically. 

Wrapping It Up

While deer are technically considered omnivores, they typically rely on plants for their nutrition. With highly adapted stomachs, deer eat an impressive variety of foods, including insects. Deer often eat insects unintentionally as they consume the plants where these insects reside.

To recap, here are the 5 insects that deer are most likely to eat, purposefully or not:

  1. Beetles
  2. Flies
  3. Aphids
  4. Caterpillars
  5. Spiders

That’s not to say that deer won’t intentionally eat insects. They certainly will, especially in times when other food sources are scarce. There are also insects that they prefer over others, such as larger caterpillars and beetles.

While they may reduce your pests a bit, it’s not worth attracting a fleet of deer as an alternative to other pest control methods! If you’re having problems with pests, you can always reach out to a pest control specialist using our nationwide pest control finder.


Inglis, J. M., Hood, R. E., Brown, B. A., & DeYoung, C. A. (1979). Home range of white-tailed deer in Texas coastal prairie brushland. Journal of Mammalogy, 60(2), 377-389.

Jedrzejewska, B., Okarma, H., Jedrzejewski, W., & Milkowski, L. (1994). Effects of exploitation and protection on forest structure, ungulate density and wolf predation in Bialowieza Primeval Forest, Poland. Journal of applied Ecology, 664-676.

McShea, W. J. (2012). Ecology and management of white‐tailed deer in a changing world. Annals of the New york Academy of Sciences1249(1), 45-56.

Thomas, M. C. (2000). American Beetles, Volume I: Archostemata, Myxophaga, Adephaga, Polyphaga: Staphyliniformia. CRC Press.

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