If you live in a rural area, or near a park, you’ve probably observed this unique squirrel behavior. When the weather catches a chill, these bushy-tailed creatures begin what looks like preparation for a wide-scale scavenger hunt. In great numbers, these squirrels begin to bury nuts! Squirrels hide nuts this way as preparation for cold weather when otherwise food will be scarce. This kind of proactive stashing raises a lot of questions for squirrel enthusiasts—the most pressing being how do the squirrels find their nuts again? Eastern gray squirrels, in particular, bury their nuts far and wide. Scientists themselves aren’t even quite sure of everything that goes into this stashing behavior, but they have some ideas.
Scientists have observed gray squirrels frequently burying and reburying their nuts. The scientists posited that this behavior was to help always keep a fresh memory of the nut’s location. However, it’s not only memory that squirrels need to combat in order to find their nuts! The gray squirrel community is rampant with nut theft. Squirrels can lose as much as 25% of their cached nuts to such thieves! Luckily, squirrels have developed some clever tactics to protect their nuts. Scientists have observed squirrels creating false caches in order to trick thieves. If squirrels are suspicious of thieves, they will also start to hide their nuts in difficult to reach places (like under bushes or in muddy areas).