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Gardener puzzled by mystery creature’s ‘delicate’ act: ‘Taking the pith’

Aussies have been left stumped after a gardening enthusiast’s unbelievable find on his lemon tree. The homeowner was surprised to discover the lemons on his citrus tree completely bald after a “neat and tidy” mystery creature took to removing their rinds overnight, while leaving the fruit inside almost intact, prompting speculation about who the hungry visitor could be.

The resident of the Southern Highlands in NSW shared photos on social media of what remained of his lemons, still hanging on the branches of the tree but completely naked, sharing that the culprit was leaving “no broken branches or debris.” He said the rindless lemons are often in the center of the tree next to a lot of untouched fruit.

His post was flooded by comments from others who reported the same thing was happening to their lemon trees, with debate raging over whether it was the work of cockatoos, possums or even rats. One joked the creature was “taking the pith”, while another said it must be a lover of “lemon cakes and lemon butter”.

But what do the experts say? Stephen Knights, owner of Peter the Possum and Bird Man, told Yahoo News Australia his bet is that it was rats based on the chew markings.

“A fussy rat at that,” Kights said. “Cockatoos and brushtail possums would leave bigger chew holes, it could also be a ringtail possum, but I’d bet on rats!”

WIRES spokesperson John Grant said the “jury was out” on which creature had attacked the lemons but it was most certainly a possum or rats. “It could be a possum, they tend to be pickier than rats,” he told Yahoo News.

Grant also issued a warning as the rats in the lemon tree may not be the common, introduced variety. “There are a number of native rats, some of which are becoming endangered. The broad-toothed rat is critically endangered,” he said.

Grant advised against putting down rat traps as it is illegal to kill native animals which are protected and it was difficult to tell the difference between the breeds, while moving animals away from their territory could cause anxiety, particularly for possums who can develop stress dermatitis.

Grant said as native animals were increasingly being displaced from their natural habitat by tree clearing and extreme weather, they had to adapt and often resorted to sourcing food from flowering and fruiting trees in our gardens.

“Tree netting is a popular way to protect fruit from wildlife, particularly in urban areas, but the wrong type of netting can be deadly with native animals easily entangled,” he told Yahoo News.

The wrong type of tree netting can be deadly to our native wildlife who can get trapped, unable to escape. Source: Supplied

“Wildlife friendly netting must have a mesh size of less than 5mm holes or less – anything greater poses a threat to wildlife.”

He said native birds, bats, lizards, snakes and the occasional possum were the main victims of inappropriate netting and many died from horrific injuries when trapped as the nets cut deeper while they tried to escape.

Other Aussies said their lemon trees had been stripped bare by cockatoos.

“Cockies have been feasting on lemon trees lately!” one wrote, another said cockatoos had been “smashing our passion fruit tree”, while one more shared they had a “bumper crop” until the birds arrived.

Others disagreed, with one saying: “Cockatoos went straight for the seeds in ours then threw them around the yard. This snacking looks quite delicate.”

“Possums just love eating the rind and leaving the rest behind,” another added.

If you find an injured animal, call WIRES on 1300 094 737 to find a local wildlife carer.

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