According to researchers at University of California, Berkeley, squirrels are a lot craftier than they’re given credit for. Besides their ability to figure out how to get seeds and nuts from bird feeders that have essentially been squirrel proofed, it seems that at least fox squirrels sort and categorize the nuts they forage for storage. Using a technique known as chunking, an organizational act that sorts collections into more manageable groups, they are thought to — depending on the circumstances — store by quality, variety and perhaps even preference.
The study, conducted over a two-year period, tracked the behavior of 45 fox squirrels, both male and female, as they stashed their caches across the UC Berkeley campus. The creatures are known to stockpile between 3,000 to 10,000 nuts a year. What wasn’t known before now was whether there was a method to their madness or if their efforts were more random in behavior. After plying the animals with an assortment of nuts and employing GPS navigational tools, it was determined there is a method after all.
During the course of the investigation feeding locales and techniques were changed up. The nuts were offered in organized groups and also randomly. Some squirrels were fed at the spot where they’d stashed the last nut offered them, while others were fed at just one spot that they’d need to come back to if they wanted more nuts. The group found that squirrels that hunted for nuts in one spot often organized their booty by type and buried them in individual categories. Squirrels fed in more than one spot were found to avoid storing in areas they’d already stashed nuts in.
While it may not be groundbreaking information, it does provide evidence that squirrels, like most animals, have far more intelligence and possess reasoning skills far beyond what many humans attribute to them. All the team at UCB had to do was ask somebody with a bird feeder. They could have told them in two minutes or less.
Source: Science Daily