Q. I have a cactus that has small flat paddles with no visible needles. The problem it has is that all of the paddles seem like they are chewed around the edges. Every time a new paddle grows, the edge soon becomes brown around the edges.
A. This is most likely rabbit damage. Just because you don't see any needles doesn't mean they are not there. There are plenty of cacti that seem to have no needles at all. But they are small and even more of a problem for humans and other animals than cacti with large needles simply because you are not as cautious around these types.
|Rabbit damage to nopal cactus with very tiny spines|
One primary reason for having needles, and particularly large needles, is to prevent animals from eating the pads. The spines, or needles, on cacti are at locations on the plant which are not random. If you look at them closely they follow a spiral pattern with spaces between them.
|Nopal Cactus with large spines|
Rabbits love cacti with very small spines. They will eat between the spines being very careful not to let their mouth come in contact with them. Of course the easiest place for them to chow down is on the margins of the pads, between the spines.
You most likely have rabbit damage and you will have to exclude them from the plant if you want to keep them from getting damaged. Chicken wire in 24 inch widths with 1 inch hexagon openings will keep rabbits away from these plants if they are put around the perimeter. Make sure the rabbit cannot put its nose under the bottom edge and get under it.