The All-You-Can-Eat Squirrely Buffet

Squirrel eating a nut

Squirrels are such messy eaters!

They toss their food trash everywhere. In fall, it’s discarded acorn caps and broken shells. These days, they’re dropping bud and leaflet leftovers. It’s raining half-chewed twigs and seed clusters, too.

Yesterday, I saw squirrels scarfing down samaras, the maple seeds we call helicopters or whirligigs. The seeds aren’t quite ready to drop from the trees. But you wouldn’t know that by looking at our walkways. Squirrels seem to drop three clusters for every one they eat.

Maple seeds littering a walkwayThat got me thinking about the many foods I’ve seen squirrels tuck into. They eat acorns, of course, and the samaras. Beech and oak leaf buds. Needle tips from a cedar tree. I’ve watched them bite into bark and munch on mushrooms growing there.  They eat snow for winter.

A year ago, I wrote about seeing a squirrel eat a dry brown leaf. And once I witnessed what appeared to be a squirrel casing a nest. I feared he might snatch a nestling. But a woodpecker mama managed to disabuse him of any such notion.

Take a look at some squirrels and their all-you-can-eat buffet. Then keep reading. I’ll share something surprising I learned about a squirrel’s acorn-eating technique.I’ve written about how squirrels often eat just the top half of a red-oak acorn. And now I learned that shaking acorns helps squirrels check for weevil larvae that might be inside.  They seem to be gauging weight differences between sound and infested acorns. If they bury infested acorns, those nuts might spoil. So they eat the ones with weevil grubs right away. Or just pluck the grubs for yummy protein!

The weevils drill tiny holes in acorns to deposit eggs inside. The maturing larva makes a bigger exit hole (1/8th inch diameter) when it chews its way out. Naturalist Joanna Brichetto wrote all about that in her fun and informative article called See, Know Weevil.

Here are some terrific photos she shared with me from that article. They’ll show you what you’re looking for if you’re inclined (like me!) to go on an acorn weevil hunt this fall.

Acorns with weevil holes
Acorns with weevil holes, photo courtesy of Joanna Brichetto
Acorn weevil and acorn with hole
Acorn weevil larva and acorn with weevil hole, courtesy of Joanna Brichetto

Here’s a photo of an acorn I found yesterday. I’m wondering if we’re seeing where a squirrel extracted a larva and pitched the rest.

Did a squirrel pull out a larva?

I’ve seen the larvae’s tiny exit holes without realizing what they were. But I never noticed a squirrel doing the acorn shake.

You can bet I’ll be stalking squirrels this fall, hoping my zoom lens will catch them in the act.

If you’d like to learn more,  entomologist Mary Lou Flint talks about acorns, weevils, and squirrel head-shaking in this article, published by the Effie Yeaw Nature Center.

Image Credits: Carol Doeringer, Joanna Brichetto.

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