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My wife likes to organize things. Items in our pantry are grouped together based on what is in the box or can. All of the spaghetti is on the same shelf as the spaghetti sauce. All of the soups are together on their own shelf. All the cereal is together on its own shelf. When I put something in the wrong place, she expresses amazement at my male inability to understand the importance of organization. I recently learned that fox squirrels do the same thing. I have often wondered why the large female squirrel outside my office window is chattering at the smaller male squirrel who is dashing around seemingly looking for something.
A recent experiment may give an answer. Squirrels sort their nuts by a process called “chunking.” Researchers at UC-Berkeley used GPS devices to track 45 male and female fox squirrels for two years. They gave the squirrels different kinds of nuts — almonds, pecans, hazelnuts, and walnuts. The squirrels buried the nuts in unique spots with each nut having its own location.
The researchers made the nuts available one at a time, at different times of the year, and in different locations. The researchers concluded that “the squirrels use a surprisingly flexible and sophisticated memorizing strategy to cache their nuts.” I have noticed that our grey squirrels here in Michigan do the same thing. I recently found a cache of sunflower seeds that came from my bird feeders, and later found a cache of acorns. There were no sunflower seeds with the acorns and no acorns with the sunflower seeds.
Fox squirrels gather between 3,000 and 10,000 nuts a year. By using the chunking method, they know where to find each nut type. That simplifies locating food sources. Like my wife, the squirrels know where to find each unique meal item. There is a design feature built into the squirrels' DNA that assures them of a more efficient way to find their stored food. Programming requires intelligence, and DNA has to be programmed to work. God has programmed all kinds of instructions into the DNA of his creatures, and this is one more example of how well the process works.
Source: The original study was by Dr. Mikel Delgado and was contained in the journal Royal Society Open Science. It was referenced and summarized in National Wildlife, February/March 2018.
© Kerry_H. Image from BigStockPhoto.com.