Strange happenings with lemon tree

alamedadadAugust 20, 2006

Hi, This is my first post, upon finding your site.

I have a strange situation happening to our lemon tree. There are several lemons that have no skin, only flesh. It appears that a bird or something is eating the skin and not the flesh.

We have actually watched the progress of one lemon, to be sure we understood the problem.

So, please help! What is going on? We do get a lot of hummingbirds, which is my guess!


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Could you post a picture? I would like to see this.I don't think it could be a humming bird, they only drink nectar from flowers and eat small insects like fruit flies as far as I know. It could be some other kind of bird but usually I don't have a probem with birds or animals bothering my citrus. Anybody have any ideas?

    Bookmark   August 21, 2006 at 8:15PM
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gardner_dragon(z7 NE AR)

Squirrels, tree rats, and opossums will all eat the rind/skin and leave the fruit untouched. One of these may be your culprit.

    Bookmark   August 21, 2006 at 9:25PM
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Thanks for the info, I will take a picture and post it. We do have squirrels in the area and we have had rats in the house, but they were not tree rats, rather something like Norway rats.

If that's the problem, what can I do about the problem?


    Bookmark   August 28, 2006 at 10:50PM
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Michael, what is a Norway rat? Are they big? Do they enter your home???
I would think it's birds and squirrels and maybe rabbits, but if it's wildlife, wouldn't they eat the insides of the fruit, too? and not just the peel? I would believe so.
I have a grape vine and every summer wildlife gets to the grapes before I have a chance to taste one..I've grown them about 3 yrs now and never once tasted a grape..And these animals are smart..they wait till the grapes are ripe..I can grab a handful if I liked unripe grapes, but they're probably bitter.
Anyway, they eat most of the fruit, not just the wrappings. This is a mystery..Toni

    Bookmark   August 29, 2006 at 10:01PM
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I'm with you. I don't see how a rat can climb a tree and then get out to the end of the "branch" to eat the fruit.

Here is the rat's resume -

I have done some web searches and the only things that eat the skin only are rats and squirels. Maybe chipmunks?? We have tons of them around the area.


    Bookmark   August 30, 2006 at 12:44AM
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jean001(z8aPortland, OR)

Snails can peel citrus fruit. But it's seldom over the entire fruit surface.

    Bookmark   August 30, 2006 at 7:33PM
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Oh geesh..what an ugly creature! LOL
I don't know if this will help, but here in US they sell a spray w/hot pepper in it to keep wildlife away from plants/fruit. You just spray it and it's supposed to keep animals away..they dislike the odor so they don't bother our plants..The main ingredient is Cayenne Pepper which is harmless to humans. It will not hurt the rodent either but again, supposely keeps them away becuase of the scent..and if they do happen to take a bite, it'll burn their tongues and they'll stay away.
Now birds are another thing. I raise birds and seed mix contains peppers, so if it's a bird eating your fruit peels, the pepper wouldn't deter them from eating away.Where do you live? Toni

    Bookmark   August 30, 2006 at 7:40PM
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carolb_w_fl(zone 9/10)

Hi - here in FL we have Asian Roof rats which are arboreal - that is, they stay up high off the ground most of the time.

They are a common nuisance in the citrus & other fruit trees here.

However, they usually eat a perfectly round hole & hollow out our oranges, grapefruits, etc.. I 've seen evidence of them in my Meyer lemons(small chewed bits fallen on the ground below) but I'm not sure if they'd leave the flesh in favour of the rind - unless those are very sour lemons???

Alamedadad - does your moniker signify that you're in CA?if so, I'd imagine you might have those type of rats too - they originally got here through shipping ports.....

You might try asking your county extension svc about this.I'm sure there are animal pests that are known to do what you describe.Tho I seriously doubt a bird could remove the rind from a lemon w/o piercing the flesh w/ its beak...?

Bird damage to fruit that I see is always characterised by stab marks from the bird's beak.

    Bookmark   September 3, 2006 at 1:48PM
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Carol, how gross.(S) So these roof rats live in trees? What do they eat? Do they hang around oragneries? Geesh, if it's not one thing it's

    Bookmark   September 3, 2006 at 5:04PM
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carolb_w_fl(zone 9/10)

Here's some info from the U of FL IFAS pages....


(but I'm not absolutely certain that is the culprit eating rinds off lemons - might it be an insect or snails/slugs???)

Here is a link that might be useful: Control of Roof Rats

    Bookmark   September 5, 2006 at 12:27PM
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Thanks Carol..very interesting..Do you fruit resemble those on the site? Have you ever seen these rats hanging around your property? Toni

    Bookmark   September 5, 2006 at 8:50PM
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I have a lemon tree in our back yard and live next to a creek. We are visited nightly by Norwegian roof rats who pass through the yards for food. They climb into the lemon tree and carefully eat the rind or skin off the lemon, leaving the fruit perfectly intact. I have watched them at night with a flashlight as they eat the skin. I guess they'll never get scurvy.

    Bookmark   September 13, 2006 at 1:31PM
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We don't have roof rats but we have plenty of Norway rats in DC and the suburbs, especially around food establishments. Some of those suckers are the size of a house cat. They are gross but incredibly smart and almost impossible to eradicate.

    Bookmark   September 13, 2006 at 8:32PM
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These rats are little buggers, aren't squirrels..I have problems w/squirrels like you can't believe. They've eaten so many plants..I don't know what to do w/this guys when I take plants out in summer. They're just furry rats is all they are. Toni

    Bookmark   September 14, 2006 at 2:15PM
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Our Meyer Lemon trees in San Francisco have had lemons peeled by something for years. We thought for a long time that snails were taking the peels, but we sometimes see the lemons at a distance from the tree. Snails aren't THAT strong. We're guessing the culprits are rats (unseen, but to be expected in the city).

A small Meyer Lemon we recently planted north of San Francisco has not, as yet, had such an assault. There, in the country, rats are never seen, but raccoons are common.

    Bookmark   March 2, 2007 at 6:32PM
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Experiencing the same thing. 5 lemons on my tree have no skins on them and 3 on my neighbor's. A few were partially peeled with the peeled part in almost inaccessible positions. Has me baffled too. Location is San Carlos, CA.

    Bookmark   February 13, 2011 at 11:02PM
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Hi My elderly friend has a myer lemon tree, something is eating with precision,the skins. Do you know what this is, i live in australia by the way. I hope to hear back from you soon, Bob.

    Bookmark   June 22, 2011 at 11:49PM
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we have the same prob in San Leandro,CA and I'm pretty sure this link has the answer. We've always had "roof rats" in the area(my grandfather's dog chased them in the backyard when I was a kid)and they nest in palms and italian cypresses normally. Sorry to say I don't know any way of detering them though.

    Bookmark   August 5, 2011 at 8:22PM
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Here in Napier New Zealand my Meyer lemon tree just this year has the same problem. Just the rind being "eaten".Really weird seeing more rind go every day. I thought it was a disease, but your suggestion of rats and possums is logical. (Only thing is Meyer lemons are relatively sweet, so I would have thought they would eat the flesh too.)
So cayenne spay? Anything else?

    Bookmark   August 15, 2011 at 1:52AM
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My little Meyer Lemon tree in San Francisco is about 5 years old, a year ago I noticed bark being eaten off around the base, then suddenly in last couple of months LOTS of bark was gone higher up, including ALL AROUND the entire trunk in places, and out on some branches. Also I found lemons on ground with rind eaten off.
1) have coated all the wounds with pruning sealer - do you think the tree can survive?
2) last weekend I put out Di-Con mouse/rat poison in two places... after a few days one container was completely empty and the other completely disappeared! I hope it was rats that ate it.
3) interested if anyone has seen a Meyer survive after the bark was completed circled off..... tks.

    Bookmark   February 16, 2012 at 5:36PM
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toni93230(Z9 Central CA)

Well, well, well. Today we found a Meyer lemon laying on the ground under our tree with most of its rind gone and some of the fruit itself gnawed. I came to Google "what's eating the peel off my lemons?," and lo and behold - a TON of posts!

This is the first time we've seen this, BUT it explains why our little terrier dog, who fancies himself a big-game hunter, sits staring up into the lemon tree for HOURS ever since we moved in last spring. Sometimes he gets excited and barks, and it's usually at night, and I've gone out and shined a flashlight up into the branches, and shaked the heck out of the tree, but seen no evidence of any critters. Mystery solved! - Another Toni

    Bookmark   January 20, 2013 at 3:10PM
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jkom51(Z9 CA/Sunset 17)

Actually, roof rats originated in Asia, spread to Europe, and came to America. Norway rats are a different species.

Roof rats are endemic almost everywhere in CA, but especially in the East Bay. They're actually rather cute when young, like hamsters but with long rat tails. And they get BIG out here when times are good - we had one in our backyard that came close to 3' long including its tail.

If there is ivy or cypresses around, there are roof rats, guaranteed. You will hardly ever see them, but they are there. Very elusive and good at remaining hidden.

    Bookmark   January 21, 2013 at 4:14PM
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If it squirrels which are eating your lemon I have them here around my yard not one not ten may be a thousand. They drove me out of my mind. They come at night and climb on my trees and destroy the fruit. They do not eat the whole fruit but they bite on it and injure it and it falls down. They eat everything figs, plum, cherry, peach and even blue berry. I could not believe it the blackberry bush has million thorns but it did not stop them. I tried everything cages (caught only two) I tried pp gun never worked. I hope I found the solution I adopted two Jack Russell Terriers that kind of dog is tiny in size ( about 10 pounds) but nothing scares him (he thinks he is 250 pounds) and hates squirrels. They make a lot of noise and chase squirrels.
I can see the squirrels at the boundary of my yard beside the fence but scared to get into the yard I hope they still scared of my dogs. A breeder told me if my dogs catch a squirrel they will kill it. I hope it does not happen all I want that they leave my trees alone.

    Bookmark   January 22, 2013 at 1:26AM
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I've had squirrels eat the skins of my satsumas and never touch the fruit. I hate them...they're just big rats with bushy tails. I hope the Jack Russels take care of them!

    Bookmark   January 24, 2013 at 6:31PM
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hoosierquilt USDA 10A Sunset 23 Vista CA

Definitely the signature of a roof rat (or citrus rat, black rat). They will eat the rinds of sour citrus (or non-ripe sweet citrus), and when your sweet citrus are ripe enough, they will switch, and simply hollow out the citrus, leaving the peel just hanging. As jkmom said, they're all over California, and jk, we have a terrible time with them down here in N. San Diego county. And yes, they can get huge. The one I saw behind my trash cans was so big, at first I thought it was an opossum (my neighbor can testify, as I am sure they heard my scream that night, when I went to take the trash out.) I have since set out numerous bait stations and our mouse, rat and ground squirrel population is now down to somewhat more reasonable levels.

Patty S.

Here is a link that might be useful: UCIPM: Citrus Roof Rats

    Bookmark   January 24, 2013 at 10:39PM
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I live in London UK and something has taken my lemons of my small lemon tree. I was googling to see if maybe I could find out if it was squirrels or birds and saw all these posts. My thief takes the whole fruit though. The tree is in the back garden so it's not a person who needs lemons for their gin and tonic. I'm puzzled.

    Bookmark   Yesterday at 1:37AM
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