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Archive for January 25, 2021

Eastern Gray And American Red Squirrel Food Caching Strategies

Red and Gray Squirrels both store food for the winter, but their food caching strategies are very different. Gray Squirrels store many hickory, oak and beech nuts by engaging in “scatterhoarding” – burying one nut at a time, each in a different spot.  Most popular are acorns, which fall into two groups — those grown by white oak species , and those from the group of red oaks. The acorns of red oaks have delayed germination, making them ideal for storage through the winter.  Those of white oaks germinate sooner, in the fall, so are more readily eaten than buried.  (If a Gray Squirrel chooses to bury an acorn from one of the white oaks, it often removes the embryo before doing so, which kills the seed and prevents germination.)  

Red Squirrels, on the other hand, practice “larderhoarding” –  collecting green cones in the fall (up to 15,000 or more) and storing them in one place (generally in the middle of their territory) where they are fiercely protected. A large pile (midden) can result, under which new cones are placed. This cool, moist environment keeps the cones sealed, protecting the seeds from being eaten by mammals and insects that are unable to open the cones.  Middens can contain enough food to last one to two seasons. (Photo: Exceptionally large Red Squirrel midden submitted by Steve Bird of the Coastal Mountains Land Trust, Belfast, Maine)

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