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Squirreling away nuts for winter

During the autumn season, you’ll see acorns and other nuts falling from trees as the trees get ready to go dormant — basically, sleep — during the winter.

Many animals take advantage of this time and gather those nuts to eat during the winter, and you’ve most likely seen plenty of squirrels running around with acorns in their mouths or holding black walnuts in their paws. They are eating nuts, fruit, berries, corn, insects and other items to fatten up for the winter, putting on layers of fat as its gets colder like humans put on layers of clothing.

Photo of a fat squirrel

You might have even witnessed a squirrel not eating a nut but pushing a whole nut into the ground.

That’s because tree squirrels, such as the fox squirrel that is common in Iowa, don’t store nuts in their dens for the winter. Instead, they will form caches of nuts that they can eat when food gets scarce — or hard to find — during the winter.

One squirrel can hide up to 10,000 nuts per year.

Photo of a squirrel with a nut in its mouth

They will crack a nut — to make sure it doesn’t begin to grow before winter — and then will bury it just below the surface, hiding it from predators. Studies have even found that squirrels precisely place nuts in certain places, forming a cache of acorns all together and another cache of just walnuts. They then use their sense of smell to find their nuts when they are hungry during the winter.

In the spring, any forgotten or uneaten nuts may end up sprouting where they are buried. That means squirrels are very important in shaping forests!

 

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