I’ve gone all French in the title because if you can pronounce their word for “squirrel,” you’re on your way to speaking the tongue. (Close behind is the locksmith’s: “serrurerie”.) Anyway, gray squirrels (Sciurus carolinensis) are probably the wild mammals that you encounter most often. In today’s New York Times, Natalie Angier brings us up to date on the latest in gray squirrel research. Read her piece and you’ll look at these rodents with a new respect.
Here’s a tidbit:
But the squirrels don’t just bury an acorn and come back in winter. They bury the seed, dig it up shortly afterward, rebury it elsewhere, dig it up again. “We’ve seen seeds that were recached as many as five times,” said Dr. Steele. The squirrels recache to deter theft, lest another squirrel spied the burial the first X times. Reporting in the journal Animal Behaviour, the Steele team showed that when squirrels are certain that they are being watched, they will actively seek to deceive the would-be thieves. They’ll dig a hole, pretend to push an acorn in, and then cover it over, all the while keeping the prized seed hidden in their mouth. “Deceptive caching involves some pretty serious decision making,” Dr. Steele said. “It meets the criteria of tactical deception, which previously was thought to only occur in primates.”
Fig. 1. Yes, yes, I know that this isn’t a gray squirrel.