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Red Squirrels Caching Food For Winter

11-12-18 cached mushroom_U1A1299

Both carnivores and herbivores cache, or store, food for later consumption. Black-capped Chickadees tuck seeds into bark crevices. Bobcats may cover their kills with leaves, grass, snow and even hair from their prey’s carcass. Grey Squirrels bury their nuts individually, while Red Squirrels often hide green cones in a pile of cone scales (middens) that accumulate at the site where the squirrels have previously eaten seeds, keeping the young cones moist so that they will retain the seeds within them.

Red Squirrels sometimes go one step further than most animals that cache food — they frequently preserve their food by drying it before storing it.  You’ll recognize this when you see it – an apple or mushroom stuck in the crotch of two branches. Sometimes the dried food is collected and cached near their winter quarters, but often it remains lodged in tree branches until eaten.  The pictured mushroom, which was hung out to dry, was reduced almost to mush by the torrential rains we’ve had lately. Eventually it will dry out and remain edible into the winter.

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8 responses

  1. janetpesaturo

    There’s a lot of mushroom drying going on the woods right now, at least in MA. It has been a good year for mushrooms, due to all the rain, and a poor year for mast, so red squirrels are just gathering what is available. The amazing thing about the fact that they dry some foods prior to storage, is that they don’t dry other foods, like cones, which open and disintegrate when dry. So they somehow know best to manage different foods. Pretty amazing!

    November 9, 2018 at 8:18 am

  2. Doreen Morse

    This was so interesting…love learning new things about the natural world. Thank you.

    November 9, 2018 at 8:50 am

  3. Martha Kent

    We’ve had many mushrooms stashed to dry by red squirrels in our outhouse/woodshed, up in the eaves and in nooks and crannies in the woodpile. I love that squirrels have figured out that they can dry mushrooms to eat later. I was pretty surprised the first time I observed this but it makes absolute sense — great nutritional source.

    November 9, 2018 at 11:08 am

  4. Thanks for this info Mary–very interesting. Are you saying if we see something like what you showed us in the photo, that it likely is/was a red squirrel drying his good?
    Bo

    November 9, 2018 at 11:54 am

  5. Alice Pratt

    That mushroom looks very 😝…. good to know it will dry out again. Smart squirrel….I really wonder how many times the squirrels remember/smell where their acorns are hidden & if their fellow squirrels smell them and dig them up before the acorn planter gets to the food.

    November 9, 2018 at 3:27 pm

  6. I have heard, (from someone who is very knowledgable about the natural world) that the relevant memory cells in the brains of gray squirrels are replaced from year to year, so that they can remember where they’ve buried the acorns for the current winter. Have you heard any such thing, Mary? – Dell

    November 11, 2018 at 9:53 pm

  7. I haven’t, Dell, but have heard something similar about Black-capped Chickadees!

    November 12, 2018 at 8:31 am

    • Well, that’s cool for chickadees!
      I’ll check with my source about her source, and maybe get back to you, re. red squirrels’ brain cells… Thanks, Mary!

      November 12, 2018 at 9:25 am

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