By Vince Mancuso, StorageUnit.com
We’re here again with Dr. Phil Myers, Professor Emeritus of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and Curator Emeritus of Mammals at the University of Michigan, as well as one of the brilliant minds behind Animal Diversity Web, a site dedicated to giving information about all sorts of animals, including 95 species of squirrels! While this is an impressive resume, here at StorageUnit.com, we just call him a squirrelologist—our expert on all things squirrel.
We turn again to our squirrelologist to further honor and gain inspiration from our beloved mascot, Hazel the Squirrel, and to learn a bit more about the many storage locations squirrels use when stashing their cache of food.
Hello, Dr. Myers, how are you doing today? Run into any squirrels lately?
All the usual suspects here in Michigan—fox squirrels, gray squirrels, red squirrels, still a few eastern chipmunks active in November (but underground for the winter now in December), southern flying squirrels on the bird feeder at night. The woodchucks (also squirrels!) have hibernated, so we’re not seeing them and won’t until spring.
Last time we spoke, it was about some of the basics of squirrel preparation for storage. You mentioned a bit about chipmunks storing their food underground, do any other squirrels select particular spots for storage?
I don’t think we know how our tree squirrels, which bury nuts individually, choose their places. Northern and southern flying squirrels are said to cache food items in tree cavities, including their nests.
Underground storage sounds a lot like indoor storage we humans may use. Why is it that these squirrels select covered areas for storing their food? Is it to protect the food from being stolen, or is it a way to keep it from freezing?
I don’t know the answer to this one, but probably protecting it from theft is important. The shallow holes in which tree squirrels put the nuts they bury aren’t likely to be deep enough to protect from freezing. The burrow systems of chipmunks may do that, but I imagine that having a convenient stash of food and a protected place to eat it are more important.
Sounds like they could benefit from our climate control feature! Not all squirrels bury their food stores though, what do the squirrels do that keep their food uncovered?
Most North American squirrels cache food at some time in their annual cycle, usually in preparation for winter. Some ground squirrels, which hibernate deeply and probably don’t feed during the winter, may feed on cached food when they emerge from hibernation and food is scarce. But most also often consume some food when they find it—we’ve all seen gray or fox squirrels or chipmunks chewing on seeds or nuts. A few, like red squirrels, may harvest mushrooms or berries and place them in a protected but open place, at the base of a large tree branch, where they will dry for later storage.
Outdoor storage does provide easy access to their things, I guess. What happens to those squirrels who don’t store their food?
When squirrels eat items without caching them, they often drag them to relatively protected places. In our region, for example, it’s easy to find piles of chewed hickory nuts or acorns right at the base of large trees that the squirrels can quickly climb if a predator approaches.
With a storage unit, we have security features like gated access and video surveillance to keep our things safe. How do squirrels keep their stored items protected?
Squirrels are often aggressive towards other squirrels, keeping them away from their burrows or the territories in which they’re caching food. We’ve all seen squirrels chasing one another and occasionally actually fighting.
Yikes, so they kind of are their own security feature then. While most squirrels find a spot they can defend, what would happen to a squirrel who didn’t pick a good spot to store and eat?
Yeesh—that makes me happy storing our things can be pretty easy! All you have to do is find a storage facility in your area that meets your size, proximity, and security needs. When I think it about it, self storage renters do go through a similar process as squirrels when it comes to choosing a location in their territory and making sure it’s safe. Our furry friends just go to a bit more of an extreme when it comes to protecting their cache!
Thanks again Dr. Myers, it’s always a pleasure speaking with a squirrelologist such as yourself!