Have you ever wonder how squirrels organize their nuts for the winter? Obviously, they work their asses off throughout the summer and fall – collecting all the nuts they can get their little paws on – and then stash those nuts away for further use. After all, they have a little squirrel family to feed.
It seems that these little fellows are pretty savvy planners as well as gatherers. To some, it might seem that squirrels hastily sock away their nut reserves on a whim while they mill about to ensure the supply will meet the needs for the upcoming winter. Furthermore, there is a security aspect to all of this because freeloaders and poachers are forever eyeing the valuable nut supply of the squirrel families.
Squirrels Storing Nuts for the Winter
Needless to say, the nut stash is under constant threat from other squirrels, different birds, and even a few big hungry bears. A recent study has indicated that our little furry nut hunters actually utilize a system that organizes their nuts by species and size – much in the same way that we would organize our pantry. Squirrels employ a method that experts refer to as “chunking,” which is the way that like items are clumped into memorable and manageable chunks.
This study was conducted as fieldwork by researchers. They identified and tracked forty-five squirrels that live on the campus of the University of California, Berkeley. They conducted the study across two years and they offered their subjects a variety of nuts such as hazelnuts, pecans, almonds, and walnuts. These different nut types were supplied in unique sequences and placed in different places to observe how the squirrels would react to different situations. The researchers discovered that the squirrels were very careful in hiding their nuts in new places whenever it was dished out in different places. However, they cached their nut collection by type, and often times by size, whenever they were offered at a central location.
One of the researcher’s press release stated that “Squirrels may use chunking the same way you put away your groceries. You might put fruit on one shelf and vegetables on another. Then, when you’re looking for an onion, you only have to look in one place, not every shelf in the kitchen.” This meant that the squirrels did not need to exert as much effort remembering the place their pecans were stashed.
The fact is that squirrels are not the only critters that use the chunking method. Lab rats have been observed to do it as well in order to remember where they keep different kinds of food rewards while in a maze. Other types of animals have also created strategies for memorizing cache areas. In one particular study, scrub jays actually remembered the place that they stashed wax worms based on when the food was stashed. For smaller animals like squirrels that store thousands of seeds and nuts every year, their very survival depends on their knowing where the foods are stored.
As this recent study indicated, we humans could probably learn a few things from squirrels. Learning how squirrels organize their nuts for the winter is probably a great place to start.