Have you ever noticed that you don’t see any animals shopping at grocery stores? When you want peanuts, you go to the store. When squirrels want nuts, they shop in trees.
Shopping at grocery stores is convenient for us. They always have a wide selection of different kinds of food to eat. They also are open year-round.
When winter rolls around, you don’t have to store up plenty of food to eat when it’s cold outside. You just keep going to the store when you need more food.
For many animals, though, the “store” isn’t open year-round. For example, many plants and trees only produce food for animals at certain times of the year. If animals are going to have enough food to survive the winter, they often need to set aside some for later.
One animal you may have seen storing nuts for the winter is the squirrel. That’s why some people call storing up food for the winter “squirreling” food away.
Not all squirrels store food in the same way, though. Gray and Fox Squirrels, for example, hide their food by burying it in many different places underground. Scientists call this “scatter hoarding.”
Why do they do this? It’s actually a smart thing to do! If another animal finds a store of food and eats it, the squirrel will still have many other stores of food and won’t go hungry.
Red and Pine Squirrels, on the other hand, hide their food in piles. They dig shallow pits — called middens — and cover them with leaves or other ground cover. Scientists call this “larder hoarding.”
Squirrels aren’t the only animals that store up food for the winter. Wildcats often bury small prey, such as birds. Moles store up earthworms in mounds. Foxes might store eggs or bones in shallow holes. Mice scatter hoard seeds and nuts in underground nests.
When squirrels and other animals scatter hoard food for the winter, how do they know where to find it again? Some experts believe they don’t necessarily remember where they hid food. Instead, they just use their sense of smell to sniff out buried food.
Others believe animals do remember where they bury food. Animals might use landmarks, such as trees and plants, to help them remember where they’ve stored food.
Some squirrels even get tricky with their food hiding. Scientists have learned that some squirrels bury fake nuts. To fool other animals, they dig holes but bury nothing in them. They just pretend in order to make other animals think something is buried there!