While you’re hiding away the Christmas presents, animals are stashing food for the winter!
Many animals “cache,” or hide food for later, similar to how we stock our pantries with food. In the winter months, caching allows animals to survive when food is scarce.
Some animals, such as bobcats and mountain lions, leave carcasses for short periods of time buried beneath surrounding vegetation. Other animals, such as rodents and birds, store seeds for long periods of time in places they’ll return to weeks or even months later.
Hiding food throughout an animal’s home range is known as scatter hoarding. This keeps the caches low and relatively unattractive to any thieves who may be lurking. However, this technique requires a good memory, as the food is often in dozens, if not hundreds, of different locations.
Another caching technique involves animals collecting food in only a couple of places, referred to as larder-hoarding. These caches are often found in cavities such as a hollow tree or a hole in the ground. They are easier to find but can require lots of defensive maneuvers.
Here are some of the animals who cache in the Peach state:
Birds such as chickadees, nuthatches, titmice and jays can store hundreds of seeds in a single day. Each seed is placed in a different location, and they usually remember where each is, even months later.
Flying squirrels store a variety of seeds, nuts and acorns in their nests and in trees. These nocturnal squirrels will even bury seeds in the ground. It is believed that a single flying squirrel can store over 15,000 seeds in a year!
Moles trap live earthworms underground. The mole bites the earthworm’s head off, and colder temperatures slow the earthworm down. If the weather warms up before the mole has a chance to consume its prey, however, earthworms can regrow their heads and tunnel their way to freedom.
Gray squirrels are often shown storing nuts in hollow trees in cartoons, but in reality squirrels are scatter hoarders. Squirrels bury seeds in small holes in the ground, and a gray squirrel can bury more than 25 nuts in half an hour. Each squirrel maintains about 1,000 caches at a time and stores about 10,000 seeds and nuts a year. That’s a LOT to remember, so gray squirrels typically only recover 50 to 85 percent of their buried treasures.
Eastern chipmunks are energetic hoarders, storing food not only for winter, but throughout the year. When you see a chipmunk this time of year, its likely headed towards a burrow with bulging cheek pouches. Chipmunks can carry an extraordinary amount of food in their cheeks. 32 beechnuts, 145 grains of wheat, 31 kernels of corn, seven acorns, or 70 sunflower seeds at one time to be exact. Consequently, if you were to peer into a chipmunk burrow in the winter, you might find him nestled atop a mountain of seeds!
Bobcats often bury prey, such as a deer, that are too large to consume in one sitting. They’ll scrape up surrounding vegetation such as leaves, twigs and soil to cover their prey. Generally, a bobcat will rest near its cache to defend it against other hungry critters, but it doesn’t take long for other animals to find and take advantage of these free meals.
Both short-tailed shrew species in Georgia (Northern and Southern) use the same unique strategy for making sure their cache doesn’t go bad: They keep it alive. Shrews eat insect larva, and their toxic saliva paralyzes their prey. The insect larva are comatose long enough for the shrew to drag it back to the nest. If the prey wakes up early, the shrew just bites it again.
If you happen across the cache of one of these Georgia critters, leave it alone. These caches are vital for these animals to make it through winter.