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!


23 Join the Discussion

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  1. Dear Wonderopolis,
    Those animals are so cute! I think tomorrow’s wonder will be about outer space. If you could eat only one food for just the winter what would it be, wonderopolis?
    Paige ;)

    • That’s a GREAT question, Paige! We like how you make us WONDER sometimes, too! Let’s see…one food for the winter…that’s a tough one! Maybe we’d bake up a special batch of “Wonderopolis Winter Wonder Bars” that had ALL of our favorite foods inside of them! That way, we could stay healthy and fueled for the winter, but still get to taste a little of each of our favorite foods all season long! Thanks for such a great comment! :-)

  2. Hello, I’m James from Mrs. Caplin’s class. I thought that this wonder was so amazing and interesting. I learned that some squirrels hide their nuts in different places. In the try it out, I knew that I have a savings account and so do my parents for my college. I didn’t know what larder hoarding meant, but I used context clues to infer that it meant hiding in large amounts. A little while ago, I saw a squirrel with a nut and I thought he was burying it for winter. I think that tomorrow’s wonder of the day will be about Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech in Washington D.C.

    • You have a LOT of personal connections to this Wonder, James! Thanks so much for sharing them with us! We think it’s really cool how you saw a squirrel this morning and that you used context clues to figure out the meaning of “larder hoarding!” Way to go! :-)

  3. I think tomorrow’s wonder of the day will be about Martin Luther King’s speech for freedom. P.S. Thank you for teaching me something new every day! = ]

    • Hi, Arianna! It makes us super happy to know that you learn something new every day when you visit Wonderopolis! Thanks for being such an AWESOME Wonder Friend! :-)

  4. Hi, this is Haley from Mrs. Caplin’s class! I learned a lot of new facts including gray and fox squirrels bury their food in many different places underground, red and pine squirrels hide their food in piles, and some scientists believe some squirrels don’t remember where they put their food but others believe they use landmarks such as a tree or plant to help them remember where they stored their food. But the new fact that was very surprising is some squirrels bury fake nuts to fool other animals! I have a very strange connection to this wonder. It is my family used to raise a real squirrel. His family fell out of their nest on our tree and he was a baby [he still had his eyes closed] and his mother took all the other babies but not him and she never came back for him. My brother Kyle picked a random name which was Pickle, and the name stuck. He grew bigger and was not afraid to climb on us. Before winter we had to let him go because he needed to hibernate and he was getting to be a very wild squirrel. It was an interesting experience to own one, though. I have one question is there a difference between female and male squirrel size?
    I learned a lot! Thanks for the phenomenal wonder!

    • WOW, Haley! What a FANTASTIC comment you left for us! We really liked your personal connection story about Pickle the squirrel. Thank you for sharing it with us! We did a little extra WONDERing about the size of male and female squirrels after we got your question, and from what we could find out, there doesn’t seem to be a size difference. We learned that size is dependent on species and how much they eat and grow, but not whether they are male or female squirrels! :-)

    • That’s a good point, Paige! Maybe we could make the bars in “sections” so that each bite was filled with a different one of our favorite foods! Sounds like a lot of work, we know, but it would make for some yummy “all winter long” snacking! :-)

    • Hello, Crazy Gurl! Squirrels are super cool and super cute, but remember that they are wild animals and you should be very careful when you are around them, OK? We wouldn’t want you to get hurt…we care about all of our Wonder Friends! :-)

    • We think it’s AWESOME that you are checking out Wonderopolis at school, Lisy! Thanks for letting us know…and THANKS for being a GREAT Wonder Friend! :-)

  5. I think the movie was amazing and an interesting film. Thank you for always making me learn something new and interesting every day Wonderopolis!

    • WOWZA, thanks for sharing your SUPER comment, Angel! We LOVE your enthusiasm about our Wonder flick! We are so proud that you are always WONDERing and learning– it’s so much fun to do, especially with great Wonder Friends like you! We hope you have a WONDERful day! :)

  6. I thought the article was very interesting. I learned many things that I didn’t know before reading this article. One thing I wished would have been done in the article was to talk about the squirrel and explain what he was doing.

    • Thanks for sharing what you learned with us today, Anna! We appreciate your comment and we hope you’ll continue to Wonder about animals, art, and cool ideas! We’ll see you soon, Wonder Friend! :)

  7. We loved the video above! We want to know what the people in the video were shaking to make the squirrel come back to the nut?
    We learned all about how squirrels gather nuts for winter and enjoyed watching the squirrel crack the nut.
    Thank you!

  8. We wonder why squirrels eat nuts? Why can’t they eat human food? Another thing we learned is that animals have stores like we do in their trees and holes. Then another thing we learned is that squirrels hide fake nuts so if another animal tries to take some nuts they take the fake ones.

    • Aren’t squirrels interesting, Nadia and Cachelee?! We think squirrels eat nuts because they’re very abundant in the squirrels’ habitat and because they’re nutritious. Nuts contain lots of protein and fat, which can help squirrels survive during the winter and throughout the whole year! :)

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Have you ever wondered…

  • What do animals squirrel away for winter?
  • Which animals store food for the winter?
  • How do animals remember where they stored their food?

Wonder Gallery

squirell_shutterstock_6383917Vimeo Video

Try It Out

Even though we don’t have to squirrel away food for the winter, people do set aside certain things for the future. One of the most important things we store ahead for the future is money.

Have you heard of saving for a rainy day? This saying doesn’t actually mean saving money to spend when it rains. It refers to saving up money you can use in the future in case you have an emergency.

Have you started saving for your future yet? If not, there’s no better time to start than NOW! If you think ahead, we’re sure you can think of all sorts of things you’ll need money for one day: new soccer cleats, a bicycle, a car and even college!

Starting a savings account early also allows you to make the most out of compound interest from the bank. So start setting some money aside and let your money multiply and grow on its own as you add to it over the years.

For more information about saving money, check out the Project C.H.A.N.G.E. Dreaming Big website to learn more about planning for the future.


Still Wondering

Check out National Geographic Xpeditions’ Geographic Groceries lesson to explore your local grocery store to see which foods are displayed together and why.


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