If you’re living in or visiting Indiana in the fall, every once in a while, you might get lucky enough to see a squirrel eat or bury an acorn. This made us wonder: Why do squirrels like acorns so much? We answer this squirrely question with help from ScienceDaily.
This time of year, a squirrel’s main diet consists of nuts, seeds and, of course, acorns. If they’re not busy consuming the acorns, the tree-climbing critters are busy storing them for their winter food supply.
Peter Smallwood, associate professor of biology at the University of Richmond, explains in ScienceDaily that for a squirrel, “the acorn is a package of energy that can be easily opened and eaten in less than half the time needed for other, harder nuts or stored for use months later."
However, it’s important to note that not all acorns are created equal. Just like you and I don’t always agree on a favorite flavor of ice cream, not all squirrels prefer the same acorns.
There are 32 species of oaks across eastern North America, but squirrels only eat and hoard certain types. Professor Smallwood and Michael Steele, associate professor of biology at Wilkes University, have found that squirrels eat 85 percent of white oak acorns shortly after discovery and store about 60 percent of the acorns of red oaks.
The professors attribute this to the fact that red oak acorns contain larger amounts of tannins than the white oak acorns. Tannin is a bitter-tasting chemical that works to protect the acorn from insects and animals, like squirrels. So rather than eat the red oak acorns, they store them.
But what happens if those silly squirrels forget where their stockpile is? Eventually, the acorns sprout new trees. Not only is a squirrel’s liking for acorns essential for its own nutrition and survival, but it is also essential for regeneration of oak forests. Just think: Next time you see a squirrel gathering acorns for the winter, you’ll now know it is also planting seeds for future forests.
Keep up the good work, squirrels!