It may have taken humans a long time to discover the benefits of reusable grocery bags, but California ground squirrels have known them for a long time. Cheek pouches are the ultimate reusable bag conveniently and permanently attached to a ground squirrel's body and a lot of other mammal species for that matter (fun fact: platypuses have cheek pouches!).
Cheek pouches allow these squirrels to collect more food while foraging than would be possible to eat or carry at one time. Without the limitation of only being able to carry what could fit in their mouths, ground squirrels can load up on food and take it to a safe location to eat or store.
There is a common misunderstanding that animals with cheek pouches are storing their bounty inside their mouths. In fact, a cheek pouch is a pocket like skin tube located between the cheek and the jaw. The opening of the pouch begins at the mouth and can sometimes almost span the length of an animals entire body!
Specialized muscles help the animals empty their cheek pouches when they are ready to relocate their newly collected food. If you have a few hours to fall down a YouTube rabbit hole, I defiantly suggest watching videos of and animals emptying their cheek pouches. It is so cool!
Last week at the James Reserve I set out to find California ground squirrels' favorite food 🌰🌻🍕. Understanding what types of nuts and seeds they prefer will help me decide what to use in my automated feeder when my decision making experiment begins 🔎.
To do this I placed out a tray of 5 different nuts and seed choices and counted which the squirrels took the most. To learn more about the food preference test I use, take a look at my blog post from August.
When running these tests I set up motion sensing cameras 🎥 around the tray to ensure it is in fact squirrels taking the food. This led to an up close and personal view of California ground squirrels filling their cheek pouches with goodies! Be sure to check out the slow motion footage below!