Squirrels, Chucks and Chips
by Jack MacRae
Squirrels are the Fox Valley’s original “preppers.” Every autumn, both tree and ground squirrels spend considerable time gathering and stashing their nuts for the months to come. Acorns, nuts, seeds, and corn provide the critical calories necessary for winter survival.
Where Did I Leave My Stash?
Both fox squirrels and gray squirrels are “scatter cachers”. They will spend months collecting and burying hundreds of nuts throughout their territory, and then rely on their memory to find this food at a future date. In a stunning display of spatial memory, squirrels may locate 40% to 80% of these nuts.
Through countless hours of scientific observation, rodentologists have been able to identify a variety of strategies used by squirrels in their quest for food.
Gray squirrels immediately eat 85% of white oak acorns they encounter and bury the remaining. They eat only 40% of red oak acorns they encounter and bury the others. Further, white oak acorns tend to be buried close to the parent tree while red oak acorns are more widely distributed. Since white oak trees germinate in the fall and red oaks wait until the following spring, this type of squirrel activity could play an important role in the distribution and growth of oak woodlands.
How Much Can a Wood Chuck? How Much Can a Ground Hog?
In autumn, woodchucks don’t have much time for chucking wood; they’re too busy trying to get fat before winter when their food sources die. After six months of daily grazing, our largest ground squirrels can tip the scales at a hefty 10 pounds, twice their early summer weight. Woodchucks are true hibernators. Our chubby chucks waddle into their underground sleeping chambers during the colder days of October. Over the next few months, they’ll fall into a deep sleep and decrease their heart rate from 100 beats a minute to fewer than 10.
When the (thinner) chucks crawl out of the dens in early spring…sorry, on Groundhog Day, the males don’t care about seeing their shadow, they’re looking for love! Baby chucks…”chucklings” (really!) are born in litters of four or five, in April and May.
Chipmunks Will Not Replace Us!
Chipmunks don’t hibernate. They create a larder, a single pile of nuts and seeds stored at the end of a long, underground tunnel. They’ll rise to the surface any time we get a series of warm days. But mostly chippies will spend weeks and months in these dark tunnels, chilling but awake, nibbling on their pile and plotting world domination!