When you think of the word hoarding, you think about your dad who doesn’t want to throw any junk in the house in the trash in case one day he needs it. In ecology this has a similar term of storing food for later, however, in this case, the item of storage is still of some value. There are two main types of hoarders, larder hoarding and scatter hoarding. Larder hoarding is when animals create central caches for their food source, such as a hamster storing all its food in its house. Scatter hoarding is typically done by small birds and squirrels, in which the food rations are randomly scattered in an area. One of the most common squirrel species you see on a regular basis, from York university to the park in front of your home, is the Eastern gray squirrel aka Sciurus carolinensis.
If you every paid the slightest attention to these squirrels, you would see that they constantly see them running around, jumping from tree branch to tree branch all to collect one acorn. These acorns are stored in the ground so that they could be retrieved later during winter (These squirrels do not hibernate, and have a high body temperature, requiring them to use more resources to keep themselves warm and active).
As these squirrels plot out where to hide their stashes, they have adapted two intelligent ways to make sure nature doesn’t take the acorns back. The first way is eating the food sources on the spot, because of the germination period of certain oak trees. Red oak acorns are okay to be buried since they germinate in the spring, but white oak acorns are eaten then or soon after due to their nutritional value decreases as time goes on due to germination happening in the fall. The second way about how they hide their food is by constantly changing locations of their food. A squirrel will usually dig holes and pretend to bury nuts so that any onlookers will be tricked or the squirrels will go back to original hiding spots and move them to a new location so that birds such as the blue jay aka Cyanocitta cristata will not be able to find them.
These squirrels have very good spatial memory (larger hippocampus) which helps them recover food reserves with a relatively high accuracy. The scatter hoarding of gray squirrels, therefore plays an important role in forest regeneration, as scatter hoarding squirrels are essentially planting hundreds or thousands of nuts throughout the forest. All of the nuts that a squirrel forgets are ready to germinate into young trees in the spring.
(Fun Fact – I got bit by one while trying to feed it a Boston cream donut by hand and never went to see a doctor)
By – Shesan Govindasamy
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