Saturday, July 10, 2010

More on the brilliant, maddening Eastern Gray Squirrel

At the moment I am raising a bumper crop of squirrels and it's my hens' fault. The hens yell and cluck and nag me and bang on the door with their beaks demanding breakfast, but then they only eat a little bit of what I fling for them and then go off to find their own. The left-over chicken feed is feeding dozens of squirrels. Squirrels are 100,000,000 times smarter than chickens so there's no way to deter them.

In 2007 I wrote about trapping three dozen squirrels before Ezra guilt-tripped me into quitting. Now even he admits we have too many.

But how can I trap them? In what way is a peanut-butter cracker inside a trap better than chicken food lying around free for the taking?

One day a genius squirrel learned to climb up the screen door, sit on a little bit of level real estate on top of the light next to the door, and launch herself 11 feet in a perfectly horizontal trajectory to land in this bird feeder. I took down the light fixture but it was too late, she had cracked the code and soon others followed her example. I had to export the most brilliant squirrels to other locations in Orange County so they wouldn't teach their trick to the masses.

Then there was Squirrel Fishing: A new approach to rodent performance evaluation

Now this.

Extracts from
Nut? What Nut? The Squirrel Outwits to Survive
By Natalie Angier for the New York Times, July 5, 2010

Squirrels can leap a span 10 times the length of their body ... rotate their ankles 180 degrees, and so keep a grip while climbing no matter which way they’re facing. Squirrels can learn by watching others ... a squirrel waited on the grass near a crosswalk until people began to cross the street ... “and then it crossed the street behind them.”

In the acuity of their visual system, the sensitivity and deftness with which they can manipulate objects, their sociability, chattiness and willingness to deceive, squirrels turn out to be surprisingly similar to primates. They nest communally as multigenerational, matrilineal clans, and at the end of a hard day’s forage, they greet each other with a mutual nuzzling of cheek and lip glands that looks decidedly like a kiss... a squirrel’s peripheral vision is as sharp as its focal eyesight, which means it can see what’s above and beside it without moving its head.

Squirrels ... gather acorns and other nuts, assess which are in danger of germinating and using up stored nutrients, remove the offending tree embryos with a few quick slices of their incisors, and then cache the sterilized treasure for later consumption, one seed per inch-deep hole.

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... as many as five times...

The squirrels recache to deter theft, lest another squirrel spy the burial ... 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.


At 3:08 PM, Blogger Alma said...

I loved this article! There is a squirrel who regularly strolls up to the glass patio door off our kitchen, stands on its hind legs, taps on the glass, and patiently waits for us to throw him a snack. He never comes inside, even when the door is open, and he always chases away any other squirrels who come near our door. We've named him Frank and I insist to our children that we don't need a dog because we already have a pet squirrel.


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