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Saturday, December 3, 2011

Squirrels, Food and Our Tax Dollars At Work

Photo courtesy of Phenomenica
The squirrels have had a busy season collecting nuts and burying them in MY yard! Yes, I know, they have to eat.  But since I've already had to take down a bird feeder because they were eating me out of house and home (worse than any teenage boy I swear!) I'm getting aggravated with all this digging, burying and then they have the nerve to come back and dig them up again! Holes, Holes and MORE Holes! And unlike a good golfer they don't refill the holes after they eat the nuts. 

As I was outside complaining to my neighbor about the inconsiderate nut buriers that infest our yards a little boy came up and asked us 'how do squirrels FIND their nuts after they bury them?' Wow, have to admit, it never occurred to me to ask that one!  But once he asked I HAD to find out the answer.  For any of you out there with children with enquiring minds that want to know or who are plagued themselves by the burning need to know just how they find the nuts they've buried in your yard I found the answer.

It seems most of the studies done on squirrel nut retrieval were not done in the wild but under controlled conditions. Students doing graduate work actually got GRANTS from the government to have squirrels run through mazes to test their memory and see if they used visual or smell cues to escape the maze.

Anyway, those studies suggest squirrels actually use their MEMORY to find all those nuts. There was some discussion about whether they used eyesight or smell to find their nuts but it seems that's not the case. Squirrels are most likely to remember larger number of nuts buried together than smaller caches of them (which is why I have more BIG holes not little ones in my yard). Squirrels also PRACTICE digging up the nuts and reburying them.  There's some suggestion that this 're-caching' helps the squirrels "refresh" their memory of where their nuts are and what they've stored where.

So the next time you're aggravated and saying "THOSE STUPID SQUIRRELS"...seems they aren't so stupid after all--they can remember where they buried all those nuts!

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