Squirrel Memory

Anyone who has put up a bird feeder has probably faced the challenge of keeping squirrels out of it. Squirrels can jump incredible heights or even hang upside down to raid a bird feeder. Squirrel ingenuity allows them to find ways around almost any defense you put up to protect the bird food. Squirrel memory may not be so good.

Maybe they keep raiding your bird feeder because they forgot where they put the food they gathered earlier. It seems that squirrels have a hard time remembering where they recently buried an acorn. One study of squirrels indicated a 20% recollection ability when it comes to recalling where they stored their food. About 80% of the food supplies squirrels bury are not used by the squirrels, so they typically hide much more food that they can eat.

You might think that this squirrel memory problem means that they are wasting energy, or wasting food that might be eaten by other animals. However, the squirrel’s bad memory is crucial to the plants whose nuts the squirrels eat. If the squirrels remembered every nut, it might be an advantage to the squirrel, but the tree would have its reproductive capacity severely crippled. Squirrels are omnivorous enough to shift to another food source when they forget where they buried the nuts.

We think this “squirrely” memory is a design feature which allows trees to be planted over a wide area.
© Roland Earnst

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