Squirrels play mind games with their rivals to deter food thieves

Animals that are capable of adapting to their environment often demonstrate a high level of intelligence, and few woodland critters are more adaptable than the grey squirrel.

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These nimble rodents can be a nuisance in the garden, digging up seeds and stealing food from bird feeders whenever they get the chance. But rather than thinking of them as pests, we should admire squirrels’ opportunistic and determined nature – their food-foraging skills help them to survive in almost any habitat, making them some of the most successful mammals around.

One of the most cunning behaviours shown by squirrels is their talent for hiding food. Contrary to popular belief, this goes beyond randomly burying acorns: squirrels use their impressive memory to remember reliable food stores year after year. They even know how to stop other squirrels from finding their favourite nuts.

If a squirrel knows that it is being watched by a rival, it will sometimes pretend to bury its food before scampering off and secretly hiding it somewhere more private.

To minimise the chance of thieves returning to regular hiding places, food is buried and reburied in different spots. This helps to ensure that the squirrel always has something to nibble on during the lean winter months.

 

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Image from www.flickr.com/photos/stuutje