A top priority for many tree squirrels 🌲🐿like this Eastern grey squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis) is the storing of thousands of nuts during the spring and summer, in order to survive through the winter.
Eastern grey squirrels, like many other of their arboreal relatives 🌲🌳, are scatter-hoarders. This means that they hide each nut 🌰 they find in a different location as opposed to storing all the food in a single place like a burrow.
Storing each food item in a separate location presents some serious security concerns 👮🚓. Thievery is rampant in the squirrel world! Bury a nut and a sneaky fluffy tailed intruder may come in and take it while you are away 👀🌰🐿.
Scatter-hoarders cannot defend each of their individually stored items from theft. So, instead they have developed unique anti-theft strategies to keep their hoard safe.
1.) The Take and Travel- One way to cut down on the risk your buried nut will be stolen, also referred to as pilfered, is to take your food item and travel ✈️🚗🚀as far as possible from the place you found it prior to burrying it underground.
Why? The mainstay of an arboreal squirrel's diet are tree nuts which are primarily found at the bottom of trees. So the logic follows; if there is one nut at the bottom of a tree 🌰🌲, there is likely more nuts there 🌰🌰🌰, and nuts attract squirrels 🐿💕🌰. So, if you burry your nuts around where you found it there will be more squirrels in that area that may find your hidden stash and take it for themselves! 🐿🐿🐿
2.) The Risky Run- For the braver squirrels out there another anti-theft strategy is to store your items in dangerous locations 😼🐍. For example, take your nut to a backyard that is known to have a few pesky dogs roaming around in it 🐶🐶.
Why? If you store your food in an area that few squirrels are courageous enough to search your chances of being able to pull up that nut 🌰a few months from now is greatly increased. The downside to this strategy is that you may have to put yourself in harms way to burry your food in risky locations.
I once saw a squirrel run across a busy street and burry a nut inside a small planter right outside the door to a busy Starbucks ☕️. More than likely that nut will not be stolen, but he will have to avoid traffic 🚗🚕🚙to get back to it in the future!
3.) The Fake-out- Lastly, if you find the perfect location to burry your newly found nut 🌟🌰, but you notice another squirrel is watching you 🐿👀you can always opt for the fake-out, also known as 'false caching'.
When a squirrel notices other squirrels 🐿or even sometimes birds 🐦 or humans 😳watching them bury food, they will pretend to bury it and secretly carry the item to a different storage location! When utilizing the fake-out strategy squirrels will go through the entire nut burying process, even taking the time to camouflage the fake cache with leaves 🍁and sticks just like they would if they were storing a real food item.
Why? If you are being followed by a thief, pretending to bury a food item may distract them allowing you to carry your nut to a more discrete location. While they hurry over to steal your new cache you can run off in another direction... nut in hand 🌰.
Check out this fascinating behavior
Delgado et. al., 2014; Steele et. al., 2014; Steele et. al., 2008