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Life is tough. Nuns are tougher.

Monday, April 14, 2008


Look! I found the keyboard! Sister Nicholas has rearranged the entire house. Unfortunately, her mind doesn't work the way most people's mind's work, organizationally speaking. I have a feeling that by next week, she will have re-rearranged everything again, so I haven't really bothered to try to figure out where everything is. I did hide my toothbrush.

I have a question for you, dear readers. Why do squirrels hide nuts? They never find them again. I know this to be the case. Our neighbor was feeding a little squirrel peanuts in the shells and this squirrel took most of the nuts and buried them in our flower pots (making a terrible mess). He never came back for his nuts. Neither did the neighbor.

For a long time my mother was feeding the squirrels. Her squirrels randomly dug up her surprise lily bulbs and reburied them willy nilly in the neighbor's yard. Now the neighbor's have beautiful surprise lilies and my mother does not.

I understand how nature works. I get that by burying nuts and seeds the squirrels may be propagating various plants.

But that isn't quite how nature works. It doesn't work that way if there is nothing in it for the squirrel.

Take my worm farm. (Please!) The worms eat leaves and garbage and leave behind....really great fertilizer. If I didn't have them contained in my little fertilizer work camp, they would be doing the same thing in the ground and they would be aerating the soil to boot. The fact that worms have to live the way they do is good for everyone, including the worms.

But these squirrels never ever find their nuts again. Not ever. There has to be something in it for the squirrel for the squirrel to be doing it. Squirrels aren't going around thinking, "HA! That Dorothy is a surprise lily hog! We'll just see about that! This neighbor yard here is ghastly looking. Let's take Dorothy's surprise lilies over there." Or, "These stupid nuns only plant petunias. Don't they realize there needs to be more peanut plants in the world?"

No. The squirrels, I think, are squirreling away their nuts for future consumption and they never ever remember where they buried a single one. Not one. Not ever.

So my question is: Why do squirrels bury nuts? Or more specifically, what's in it for them?

This has been bothering me for quite some time.

I don't know what made me think to ask about it now.


Anonymous said...

I think we all bury nuts we never go back for - don't you?

Jenny said...

Ah, thanks be to God, YOU'RE BACK!!... and with one of the best questions yet, I might add. Just trying one out here: Squirrels bury nuts for the same reason people "bury hatchets"--to be saved for a rainy day, of course. But the squirrels are so much wiser than we humans; they don't remember the nuts let alone where they buried them. We, on the other hand, on any given rainy day will not only dig up those "nuts", but use them as major artillery.

BTW, your Mom's squirrels were so much more polite than ours, who dig up the bulbs and leave them exposed to the elements to die. Can't tell you how many bulbs we've lost just this year...

Anonymous said...

I think the real question might be: Do squirrels have freedom?

I also think you would enjoy the movie "Ice Age" immensely.

Fr. Ken

Anonymous said...

Scientists have actually studied squirrel nut-burying behavior. The consensus: They definitely do find some of the nuts they bury. At Berkeley (yes, Cal-Tech is studying squirrels) they seem to think the squirrels are remembering. On the other hand, this book claims they forget where they put up to 80% of their nuts. They also are described as having an incredible sense of smell, and can find their nuts as well as lily bulbs without relying on their memory at all -- and other squirrels' nuts too. Squirrels are thieves! Not a good moral example to follow.

Mags said...

Hi Sister.

So glad you are back, we have missed you.

As for your question about Squirrels never finding the nuts they bury. I was reading a couple of weeks ago in the online version of UK Newspaper "The Daily Mail"

That apparently Squirrels, go to great lengths to pretend to be burying nuts, when in reality, they are just digging an empty hole, and then covering it up again, they do this apparently to try and fool those who are watching, the more they are watched, the more they display this behaviour..

Anonymous said...

Do you have peanuts in your petunias, or just peanut shells?

Anonymous said...

Welcome back! Nice squirrel pics....don't know why they bury squirrels when they forget where they buried them hahaha

Anonymous said...

I have actually read that although squirrels don't usually remember where they buried their nuts, it doesn't matter because if enough squirrels bury nuts, eventually all the squirrels will find some nuts when they go looking for them, even if they're mostly finding everybody else's nuts and not their own.

Some nuts, of course, are probably never found. By any squirrels. Ever. Hence the plant propagation.

A neat little system, on the whole. Although perhaps occasionally a bit frustrating for the squirrels -- that is, if squirrels have the mental capacity for frustration.

woolies said...

It's extremely sad that we do not have squirrels out here in the southwest. I miss them. I had even trained my dogs to chase them from the birdfeeders. To this day, you can say to my 2 older dogs, that remember the squirrelly days, "Where's the squirrel???" and they run around barking, looking up in the um, trees.

bill7tx said...

"I don't know what made me think to ask about it now."

Couldn't have anything to do with Sister Nicholas. Must be your mind trying to get you back into your old routine.

Squirrels bury nuts because they have nothing better to do and it's a break from chasing each other, because it drives the jaybirds crazy and squirrels love to mess with the birds' minds (maybe you don't have jaybirds where you live now, but squirrels have a genetic memory for these things), and because by planting nuts they ensure that there will be nut-bearing trees around for future generations. Squirrels actually do have strategies for remembering where they bury nuts. Unfortunately, it's not a very good strategy. Also, squirrels have tiny brains and have trouble remembering the strategy.

This is all scientific. You could look it up.

I wish you well with Sister Nicholas.

Anna B. said...

Sister Mary Martha,

Welcome back...

Anonymous said...

Sister, I can't answer the squirrel and nut question, but I can answer: Why did the chicken cross the road? To prove to the squirrels it can be done!

Welcome back!

H said...

Squirrels are God's way of reminding man that we really lucked out when He created us in His image and likeness. Just look at that picture of the hissing squirrel that you have posted here, Sister. Thank the good Lord that you're not like him, burying your nuts all over God knows where, for God only knows what reason.I think the reason they do it is because they have anxiety. Squirrels always have a paranoid look in their eyes.You can look @ them and they won't look right at you, but you both know you're looking. Anyway, I believe they have OCD - Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, and that is why they bury their own nuts. This is also why they repeatedly run their paws over their faces.

Anonymous said...

I have no idea why squirrels bury nuts? I used to think it was so they would have food in the winter but in the winter they couldn't get to them under all the snow - at least where I live. Squirrels are such busy creatures. Running all over the place getting nothing done. How long do squirrels live? We have squirrels in our woods and sometimes I think they are the same ones, doing the same things year after year.

Okay Here I Go... said...

Ah, nature -- this is our area of expertise!

The nut-burying behavior is called caching.

Gray squirrels bury nuts and often forget them, which helps trees with dispersal.

Red squirrels, on the other hand, store their nuts in piles on the ground, in hollow trees, or even in rain gutters. This system makes the nuts dry out so new plants won't grow from them.

When the squirrels do bother to retrieve their buried stores, they do so by sense of smell. Proof: squirrels go straight to the burial spot; they don't have to dig around aimlessly. Some evidence suggests that squirrels actually mark their buried nuts with a tracking scent when they do the burying.

Regardless of the squirrels' motives, the fact remains that this behavior has in fact been retained for a very long time. This means that even if we humans can't make sense of it, there has to be some energetic advantage for the squirrels, otherwise they simply wouldn't bother. One of the first and foremost rules of ecology: an organism will not invest more energy in a behavior or adaptation than the energy it can obtain from the behavior or adaptation. Except humans...but that's a different story entirely.

(For the ecological/environmental Catholic perspective, check out our blog!! We talk about fluffy animals all the time!)

Margaret Mary said...

Dear Sister Mary Martha,

This is not related to squirrels at all, but I have been wondering if the religious life is my calling.
However, I don't think I can give up riding horses. It is one of my real passions. I help other people with their horses if they can't ride (epileptic girl who had brain surgery, has a horse can't ride it).
I jump and am going to start showing.
I don't think I could give that up.

Would I be able to run and play soccer too? Could I take trips to the library to read new books if I couldn't buy them? Can you take trips to see your family?

Just wondering.

Margaret Mary :)

Anonymous said...

Awwww nuts... I can't figure this one out!

Anonymous said...

Hi Sister,

As a child, I thought squirrels were cute and wished I could have one as a pet. I fed them and talked to them. Then I grew up and became a home owner with a husband and many children. My opinion changed.

Squirrels tore off some of our siding and ate HUGE holes in my living room wall. They gave birth in the space between the inside and outside walls. When popped with air from an air-powered BB gun, one of them left briefly and returned shortly, undaunted.

Why do they bury nuts and mess up flower beds and generally mess things up? They are either suicidal or are giving us something to offer up. Maybe they are of the devil and want to hear us swear. I don't know, but they are about one or two steps above cockroaches in my list of unpleasant things.

God bless all you do.

Laura The Crazy Mama said...

Laurie, this one's for you:


Amiechan said...

Squirrels also keep track on what sort of acorn they buried - if its from grey oak or red oak. One of them (cant remeber which one) has to be eaten earlier in the winter than the other.

Anonymous said...

After you shoot the little pest be careful about picking it up as most are covered in lice.
Before stretching his little carcass over a taxidermy kit, available from sports stores like Cabela's, you want to get rid of the lice.
It is difficult to kill one without ruining the hide.

Anonymous said...

Margaret Mary,
Do you know there is a therapy for special needs kids that involves horseback riding?
The feel of riding simulates walking so it is a step toward learning to walk.
So Sister is there an order that would combine this girl's love of horses, teaching and helping others?
Is there somewhere where different orders are posted by their goals or calling or jobs?

Anonymous said...

maybe God made them that way so they could get some exercise and would be propagating plants in a useful way if people weren't there to plant flowers.

Anonymous said...

Personally, I think it's amazing how many comments a post about squirrels and nuts will generate.

It's even more amazing to me how much I enjoyed reading them.

Anonymous said...

Squirrels are also good eating. As a boy, I would hunt red squirrels, and bring them home, dress them, give them to my Mom and she would make squirrel pot pie. Yum! They have a nutty taste. If people knew how good squirrels tasted there would be a lot less of the little critters running around.

Anonymous said...

Laurie, we used to have a problem with squirrels getting into the attic crawlspace. Then we got a dog and a cat. No more squirrels!They're in the yard, but no longer come near the house...I think the cat is the better deterrent. So, there's my cure for squirrels. Of course, last week the dog chewed into a bag of cocoa powder and smeared it all over the rug, but I suppose that's better than chewed-up insulation.

Donald said...

Reminds me of a bumper sticker a friend of mine had. It said "EAT MORE POSSUM". Mind you, squirrel is smaller, and maybe more delicately-flavored than possum...

Anonymous said...

To Laura the crazy mamma,

i loved the video. i should get one of those bird feeders for my mom, who has battled squirrels on her feeders for years, Now she has baffles but those feeders would be more fun!!


And to anonymous-can't do a dog-I love dogs, but we have so much chaos here already, I can't cram in anymore! Our cat likes to watch anything that moves out the front window.


Arkanabar Ilarsadin said...

"Of course, last week the dog chewed into a bag of cocoa powder and smeared it all over the rug, but I suppose that's better than chewed-up insulation."

I'm not sure which would be worse for the dog. Cocoa is poisonous to dogs, as are chocolate and all other food items derived from cocoa.