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Ask the Squirrelologist: What to Store and How Much?

Ask the Squirrelologist: What to Store and How Much?

By Vince Mancuso, StorageUnit.com

Dr. Phil MyersDr. Phil Myers joins StorageUnit.com again for another round of “Ask the Squirrelologist” to honor our beloved mascot, Hazel the Squirrel. Myers currently serves as Professor Emeritus of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and Curator Emeritus of Mammals at the University of Michigan and is also 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!

Last time we spoke, we focused on how our furry friends select the best location for storing their food. However, this time we’re going to shift gears and focus on exactly what it is these creatures store and just how much space it takes to store it.

Hey there, Dr. Myers, last time we talked to you about how squirrels pick a spot to store their things, but we never really asked: what exactly do they store? Is it just food?

As far as I know, just food. They of course collect things like sticks and leaves that they use to create their nests, but that’s not really “storage.” Squirrels that rely mainly on perishable items (like Abert’s squirrels in the western U.S.) generally don’t store food.

pinecone-and-nutsWhat kind of food do they store?

Generally, things that aren’t perishable. Seeds, nuts, dried mushrooms, and pine cones; not soft fruit.

Interesting, do they ever store more exotic food sources?

Dead birds.

Yikes, seriously?

Yes, several kinds of squirrels consume baby birds or other things that would rot.

I wouldn’t recommend storing anything like that in a storage unit. How much of this stuff do they typically store? Is it different between species?

Yes, species differ a lot in how much they store. We generally recognize two kinds of “storing” in squirrels; scatter hoarding and larder hoarding.

squirrel-burying-foodInteresting, what’s the difference?

Scatter hoarders are species like gray squirrels and fox squirrels that pick up, for example, nuts, and bury them individually. They may bury many hundreds of items, but they don’t create large stores. Larder hoarders are species like chipmunks or red squirrels that create large caches of food items. But there’s overlap between the groups; under the right circumstances, species that are usually larder hoarders may scatter hoard and vice versa.


Sounds like someone using mini storage versus getting a 10×30 unit. You’ve mentioned chipmunks to us in the past, how much food do they store?

The amount is highly variable, depending on the species (there are many species of chipmunks), the climate it experiences, the kind of food being stored, the availability of food, and probably characteristics of the soil in which the animal digs its caches. But the amount can be large.

chipmunk storing sunflower seeds in his cheeksJust how large? Like, would they need a 10×10 or even a 10×20 storage unit?

One study, for example, showed that an eastern chipmunk cached 5000 to 6000 husked beechnuts. I sometimes feed squirrels, mostly chipmunks, in northern Michigan. I suspect that around 15 chipmunks use my feeders during a summer, and I put out over 200 pounds of sunflower seeds during that time. That makes some very large caches!

So, in human terms, they may need that 10×20. In squirrel terms, however, just how large can their burrows be to store all that food?

Chipmunk burrows can be complicated networks of tunnels that may extend over 12 feet in length.

What about tree squirrels, how much do they store?

Given that they scatter hoard, this would be very difficult to measure!

Understandable, do we know just how large the spots tree squirrels typically use can be?

Gray squirrels and fox squirrels most commonly bury their food. They are scatter hoarders, so most items are buried individually. Red squirrels both scatter hoard and store food in large caches, often in piles of pine cone bracts at the base of the trees they use for feeding.

Built-in security features! Granted, I’d probably keep a lock on my door rather than pine cones, but it gets the job done. Do squirrels ever run out of space when storing? If so, what happens then?

I suppose chipmunks dig a new burrow or new storage chambers within their burrows, but I don’t think we really know the answer to this.

Fortunately for humans, all we have to do is upgrade to a larger storage unit—a pretty easy feat, I might add. Sounds like humans have it a bit easier than squirrels when it comes to finding a space to store their possessions; we don’t have to scatter smaller things to random locations or build an underground tunnel for all our stuff! Thanks again, Dr. Myers, for all your insight and helping us honor our beloved mascot, Hazel the Squirrel.

If you’re trying to figure out if you need to scatter or larder, be sure to check out StorageUnit.com. We can eliminate the guessing game and help you figure out exactly what you need for your self storage needs.