Deer grazing peacefully in an open meadow is an iconic image, but what do these herbivores eat besides grass and leaves? If you’ve ever seen a grasshopper jump through the summer fields and wondered if deer gobble up these little insects too, you’re not alone.

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer: deer do sometimes eat grasshoppers and other insects, but they make up a very small part of their overall diet. Grasshoppers and other insects likely provide variety and micronutrients to supplement the cellulose and carbohydrates deer mostly consume.

In this detailed, 3000-word guide, we’ll cover everything you could want to know about the deer diet and their taste for grasshoppers:

The Basics of the Deer Diet

Deer as Ruminants

Deer are ruminant mammals, meaning they have a specialized digestive system that allows them to break down tough plant matter that other animals cannot digest. The deer’s stomach has four chambers that each play a role in digesting food.

When a deer first eats, the food goes into the rumen and reticulum chambers where it is partially broken down by bacteria and protozoa. The deer later regurgitates this food, called cud, back up to its mouth to chew it again and further break it down before swallowing once more, sending the food to other chambers for additional digestion and absorption of nutrients.

This complex system allows deer to obtain nutrients from fibrous plant materials including grasses, shrubs, leaves, and other vegetation. Ruminants like deer spend much of their time grazing and foraging for food to fuel this specialized digestive system.

Preferred Deer Foods by Season

The types of vegetation deer prefer to eat changes with the seasons as different plants become available. According to wildlife experts at[1], during spring and summer months deer enjoy eating green grasses, legumes, flowering plants, shrubs, acorns and agricultural crops like wheat, soybeans, or corn if available.

In the fall and winter when greenery becomes more scarce, deer transition to eating woody browse of dormant shrubs and trees, including twigs, buds and bark. Foods like sumac, rose hips, eastern red cedar, dogwood, and goldenrod are important winter foods.

Deer also have seasonal preferences when it comes to agricultural crops. According to[2], during spring and summer they tend to feed more heavily on wheat and alfalfa, while turning to more readily available corn and soybeans in fall.

Thus deer are quite adaptive in utilizing the best vegetation available during different times of year.

Do Deer Actually Eat Insects Like Grasshoppers?

Deer are primarily herbivores, feeding on grasses, leaves, twigs, fruits and other plant matter. However, they have been observed occasionally eating insects like grasshoppers as well, likely for supplemental nutrition.

Observations of Deer Eating Insects

There are several anecdotal reports of deer being spotted snacking on protein-rich insects to complement their plant-based diets. For instance, white-tailed deer have been photographed lapping up grasshoppers and locusts in fields.

Mule deer too seem to relish crunchy insects high in fat and nutrients.

Insects possibly end up in a deer’s menu by chance – they inadvertently ingest bugs while grazing grass or leaves. Deer might also be actively choosing to consume certain insects. Some theories suggest they eat insects to obtain scarce nutrients like amino acids, calcium, sodium and phosphorus.

Or to get an energy kick from insect fats during antler growth or pregnancy.

Potential Benefits of Insect Consumption for Deer

Here are some of the key advantages deer could gain from occasional insect consumption:

  • Essential Amino Acids: Insects provide all 9 amino acids deer require for bone, muscle and tissue growth.
  • Extra Protein: Crickets, locusts and grasshoppers contain 60-70% high-quality protein.
  • Healthy Fats: Insects are abundant sources of omega 3s, beneficial fats for cell functioning.
  • Vitamins & Minerals: Insects supply vital micronutrients like calcium, iron, zinc, etc.
  • Gut Microbiome Balance: Chitin in insect exoskeletons may support probiotic gut bacteria.
  • Low Effort: Insects are easier to hunt than small mammals, needing less energy expenditure.
  • The occasional insect snack likely gives free-ranging herbivorous deer a nutritious boost. In a Maryland study, white-tailed deer with moderate insect and rodent consumption had higher body mass.

    However, insects may just be a marginal food source meeting supplemental mineral needs. As per a Penn State study, deer get majority of nutrition from complex carb-rich plant foods which are their evolutionary adapted diet.

    Under What Circumstances Might Deer Eat Grasshoppers?

    Food Scarcity or Variety

    Deer are herbivores, meaning they mainly eat plants. However, when plant food is scarce, they may turn to other food sources like grasshoppers to supplement their diet. This is most likely to happen during the winter when fewer plants are available or during droughts when vegetation is sparse.

    Additionally, deer may eat grasshoppers simply for some extra variety in their diet. They typically graze on grasses, leaves, twigs, fruits and fungi, so chowing down on protein-packed insects could offer a change of taste and nutrients.

    Micronutrient Needs

    While deer get most of their nutrients from plant materials, grasshoppers can provide some beneficial micronutrients deer may not get enough of from vegetation alone. For example, grasshoppers contain iron, zinc, magnesium and vitamin B12.

    Deer likely instinctively know that snacking on grasshoppers can help fill in any gaps in their nutritional requirements.

    Accidental Ingestion

    Sometimes deer may accidentally eat grasshoppers when grazing on plants. Deer use their large tongues to grab vegetation, and grasshoppers may inadvertently get swept into their mouths in the process. This is probably more common in areas with large grasshopper populations.

    Deer likely don’t mind the extra protein they get from the accidental bug consumption. Some studies even suggest deer intentionally graze in areas with more insects to get these supplements to their diets.

    Do Deer Prefer or Actively Hunt Grasshoppers?

    Deer are herbivores, meaning they feed primarily on plant matter rather than insects or other animals. However, deer have been observed eating grasshoppers and other insects on occasion, likely as a source of supplemental protein.

    Intentional vs Incidental Insect Consumption

    There is some debate as to whether deer actively hunt insects like grasshoppers or if insect consumption is merely incidental as they graze on vegetation. Research indicates that both scenarios occur:

    • Deer may inadvertently ingest insects while rapidly grazing on grasses and low-lying vegetation.
    • In some cases, deer appear to consciously eat protein-rich insects to balance nutritional needs.

    Observations of Deer Eating Grasshoppers and Other Insects

    Several studies and first-hand field observations provide evidence that deer do sometimes intentionally eat insects like grasshoppers:

    • A 2006 study found that grasshoppers and other large insects comprised over 14% of white-tailed deer fawn diets in some regions.
    • Deer have been documented eating cicadas, with some appearing to purposefully pursue concentrations of the protein-rich insects.
    • Insects may be particularly important for pregnant and lactating deer who have increased protein demands.

    Supplemental Protein Source

    While vegetation comprises over 90% of a deer’s diet on average, they appear able to seek out and consume insects opportunistically as a supplement when available:

    • Consuming Protein-rich insects likely helps deer obtain balanced nutrition for growth and reproduction.
    • Alternating between vegetation and the occasional protein snack probably brings some dietary variety, similar to the motivation behind humans alternating between salty and sweet snacks.

    So while deer do not actively hunt or prefer insects like cattle actively graze on grass, they do appear able to identify and consume insects intentionally when abundant concentrations occur nearby their typical feeding grounds.

    Impact of Eating Insects on Deer Health and Development

    Micro and Macronutrients

    Insects can provide deer with important micronutrients like vitamins, minerals, fatty acids, and amino acids. For example, grasshoppers contain good amounts of vitamin A, B vitamins, iron, zinc, magnesium, and calcium.

    This helps support growth, immune function, reproduction, and antler development in deer (1). Some key benefits of deer consuming insects include:

    • Grasshoppers and other insects are high in protein, providing amino acids that deer need for muscle development and milk production.
    • The exoskeletons of insects contain chitin, which has prebiotic properties to support the gut microbiome in deer.
    • Insects are high in omega-3 fatty acids like DHA, which support brain development and cognition in deer fawns.
    • Micronutrients like zinc, iron, and B vitamins from insects can improve antler growth in male deer.

    Research suggests that when deer have access to insects as part of their natural foraging, they tend to be healthier overall compared to deer that lack this food source (2).

    Parasites and Diseases

    While insects provide benefits, they can also bring some risks related to parasites and diseases. Some considerations for deer include:

    • Ticks that live on rodents and birds can jump onto deer when they eat insects near the ground, increasing tick-borne disease transmission.
    • Stomach worms can use some insects like grasshoppers as intermediate hosts before infecting deer.
    • Eating insects contaminated by pesticides could potentially cause toxicity.
    • There is a low risk for prion transmission if deer eat insects that have fed on prion-infected carcasses.

    However, research shows only minimal parasite and disease transmission from wild foraging insects to deer (3). The benefits of micronutrients seem to outweigh these risks in most cases. Carefully managing insecticide use reduces contamination issues.


    While grasshoppers and other insects make up only a tiny fraction of a deer’s herbivorous diet, observations confirm that deer do sometimes snack on these protein-packed bugs. The seasonal availability, micronutrient content, or simple variety insects offer likely explain this unusual dietary choice for a normally strict plant-eater like the deer.

    Deer are fascinating herbivores with complex stomachs and seasonal needs. Though unusual, their occasional taste for insects sheds light on deer behavior and health. Hopefully this guide brought you plenty of details on whether and why deer eat grasshoppers among their regular leafy meals.

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