An online resource based on the award-winning nature guide –

Squirrels Digging For False Truffles

5-10-17 false truffles 032

Such creative and informed answers to yesterday’s Mystery Photo, and many that were right on the mark!  To set the stage, several 2” to 4”-deep holes riddled the ground under a stand of Eastern Hemlocks. Something had obviously been digging for something, but who and what? Close inspection of the holes revealed two things. The animal that had dug the holes had run into some thick hemlock roots, and with a clean 45° angle cut, had snipped them in order to have access to the soil beneath them. Secondly, some of the holes had pea- to marble-size, spherical tan objects that resembled puffballs both lying at the bottom and wedged into the sides of the holes.

Only because I had read Paul Rezendes’s Tracking & the Art of Seeing years ago did I recognize these holes and spherical structures within as the work of an animal looking for false truffles (a genus of fungi) to eat. By putting the various clues together – a hemlock stand, 3” to 6”-wide holes, clean incisor-snipped roots, and a few remnant truffles – the mystery at to what was being sought was solved.

As to who had done the digging, white-tailed deer, squirrels and porcupines all fancy false truffles. Both porcupines and squirrels have incisors that would make a clean cut through the roots. If porcupines had been digging here, there would likely be scat and/or quills lying about, which there were not. Thus, most likely it was a squirrel that had smelled, unearthed and eaten the false truffles.

Rezendes found that the truffles he discovered had dried spores inside them, and assumed that this made them undesirable to the animal that unearthed them and therefore they were not eaten. The spores of the truffles I found were not dried out, so I have no idea why they weren’t eaten, but I’m very glad they weren’t, as their presence allowed me to solve this mystery and see this phenomenon which I’ve been looking for for decades.

It may interest some to know that false truffles and Eastern Hemlocks have a symbiotic relationship. The fungi are attached to hemlock roots, so the minerals and water they absorb are available to the hemlocks. The hemlocks provide the fungi with sugars that they (hemlocks) produce through photosynthesis. Squirrels (and porcupines and white-tailed deer) and eastern hemlocks have a similar mutually beneficial relationship in that hemlocks provide the truffle-eaters with food, and the squirrels, porcupines and white-tailed deer disperse the spores of the truffles they’ve eaten. (Caution: Do not eat false truffles – they are considered toxic to humans.)

Naturally Curious is supported by donations. If you choose to contribute, you may go to and click on the yellow “donate” button.


6 responses

  1. Louise Garfield

    Thank you for the fascinating post,Mary !
    In the same level of woods, we have seen several “elf bowls,” red sized as wide as a quarter, and tiny orange (separately), Speaking of red, we wonder about the thin red coating on many of the cracking or sprouting acorns from last fall.

    May 10, 2017 at 7:31 am

  2. Hi Mary,

    Noticed in the first photo there was a tiny rodent-like dropping at the top of the photo. Was that the work of the squirrel?


    May 10, 2017 at 8:03 am

    • That is an old, blackened hemlock cone, Paul. Absolutely looks like scat!

      May 10, 2017 at 9:44 am

  3. Alice Pratt

    So interesting, to be a sleuth, in nature. Maybe squirrel ate it’s fill, or was startled.

    May 10, 2017 at 8:07 am

  4. Suzanne Weinberg

    Well, I’m really embarrassed b/c with all by theorizing yesterday, I was way off. And I’ve read a whole lot of Paul Rezendes’s book to boot. No excuse, butI do think my instinct goes way astray just looking at a photo. I always enjoy the intrigue though.

    May 10, 2017 at 10:07 am

  5. Viola

    Sherlock Holmes – you must be a descendant, Mary! It’s fascinating to follow your lines of thought. How exciting and complex nature is. No need to look further to be amazed.

    May 10, 2017 at 12:43 pm

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s