By Vince Mancuso, StorageUnit.com
Squirrels are wonderful creatures, furry and seemingly friendly, eagerly dancing from tree to fence to tree, and always ready to chat it up with their neighbors. While managing a balancing act between the domesticated and natural landscapes, the squirrel can offer valuable life insights to those willing to learn.
As a way to honor and learn from our beloved mascot, Hazel the Squirrel, StorageUnit.com spoke with Professor Phil Myers of the University of Michigan to ask what we can learn from the squirrels when it comes to self storage. Our first conversation went a little something like this:
Hello, before we begin, can you tell us a little about yourself?
I’m a mammalogist, a person who studies the biology of mammals. I am now a Professor Emeritus of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and Curator Emeritus of Mammals at the University of Michigan, and I’m responsible for the Animal Diversity Web, a website that provides detailed information about the lives of many species of animals—including 95 species of squirrels!
How long have you studied mammals?
Since I was a kid, and I’m 67. Formally, since 1969.
Wow, with so much experience, I imagine you’ve seen and studied quite a bit.
Over my career I’ve focused most of my efforts on the ecology and evolutionary biology of small mammals such as rodents (including squirrels!), shrews, and bats. Most recently, I’ve been looking at the impact of climate change on the species of small mammals present around the Great Lakes.
Our focus is primarily on squirrels. I guess you could call us squirrelologists of sorts. That is what you call someone who studies squirrels, right?
You can call them whatever you want! A person who studies rodents, however, is a glirologist.
We’re just gonna stick to squirrelologist, but as important as that is, we should get on focus: is it true some squirrels store their food?
Some store food. Chipmunks, for example, may create caches of many pounds of food in their underground burrows. During the winter, they’re seldom active above ground. But they don’t really hibernate, and they don’t accumulate large amounts of fat during the summer and fall. Instead, they feed on their caches of food.
So, in a sense, chipmunks store their food in a protected area so they can access it all winter long. I wonder if they have climate control down there. Do any other squirrels use a more natural form of self storage, as well?
Tree squirrels, of course, store food by burying individual items, for example, nuts. They remain active all year, and during the winter they can be seen digging up nuts buried in the fall.
Awesome, so it looks like squirrels also set aside things that they’ll need later in a safe spot—much like we can with a storage unit. Do they store anything else?
I don’t know of other items stored by squirrels, but it is certainly possible.
So, when they choose to start storing, how far out ahead do they get ready?
Chipmunks probably begin caching food as soon as it becomes available in the spring. They excavate complex burrow systems, with separate chambers to sleep in, to store food, and to serve as latrines. This is a time- and energy-consuming process.
Wow, what would happen if the chipmunk put things off the way humans tend to? Would you say it could drive them nuts? See what we did there?
No. I think it would die once winter set in!
Oh. Well, that got bleak. While I doubt a human would face such a dark ending from taking too long to find storage, they could suffer a bit, like missing out on a great deal or just stress from having a lot to do in a short amount of time.
I think what we have learned here is that squirrels plan ahead of time and take action on their storage activities quickly. In the same way, we should move decisively when we need to store our possessions, finding the right place and taking the right steps to make it happen!