Many readers had partially correct answers to Monday’s Mystery Photo, but congratulations go to “adaniel”, the first person to correctly identify the visitor (Black Bear) as well as the object of the visitor’s desire (Eastern Chipmunk’s winter food supply).
Between the relatively warm fall we’ve been having and the plethora of acorns and beechnuts this year, some, if not all, Black Bears have yet to enter hibernation. They are still actively consuming as much as possible to insure their winter survival. A bear’s sense of smell is extremely good – it is estimated that it is about seven times greater than a bloodhound’s. This particular bear located (with its nose) an underground storage chamber off the underground tunnel system (see red circle) of an Eastern Chipmunk.
Up to half a bushel of nuts and seeds are stored 1 1/2 to 3 feet underground in the fall by chipmunks and then consumed throughout the winter during their roughly bi-weekly arousal from sleep. The bear smelled this cache of acorns and proceeded to dig into it. Unfortunately for the bear, it was disturbed before it had a chance to consume the nutritious meal it had unearthed.
Many guessed correctly that a bear had dug up a cache of acorns, but attributed the storage of acorns to squirrels. While squirrels do cache food for winter retrieval and consumption, their technique differs from that of chipmunks. Eastern Gray Squirrels engage in what is called “scatter hoarding,” burying nuts individually, about an inch below the surface of the ground. Red Squirrels, on the other hand, store their winter food supply (typically cones of hemlock, fir, spruce, and pine trees) in a single stash or pile referred to as a midden, usually located above ground.
Thanks to Ashley Wolff who discovered and photographed the scene of the attempted ursine robbery. (Photo Inset: Black Bear grasping and eating an acorn by M.Holland.) Illustration by Meg Sodano – https://msodanoillustration.com. Thanks to Forrest Hammond, VT Fish & Wildlife Bear Biologist, for sharing his expertise.
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