Squirrels Use Sophisticated Technique To Separate Nuts By Type, Study Finds

BERKELEY, Calif. — Some squirrels go a little nuts when it comes to sorting their acorns, a new study finds.

Researchers at UC Berkeley observed the behavior of 45 nearby fox squirrels over a two-year period, finding that they use what’s known as a “chunking” behavior — organizing items into various smaller subsets in order to better manage the overall collection — to categorize their various nuts. 

A new study finds that squirrels are incredibly organized when it comes to saving nuts, using a “chunking” technique to sort them into ordered collections.

This is notable because humans also use chunking techniques, although generally for storing information, whether the data is of a spatial, linguistic, or mathematical variety. Taking your email, for example, and dividing the messages into various folders could be considered a form of chunking.

Fox squirrels use this strategy to divide the nuts they gather over a year — between 3,000 and 10,000 — into what the researchers term “subfolders,” one for each type of nut.

“This is the first demonstration of chunking in a scatter-hoarding animal, and also suggests that squirrels use flexible strategies to store food depending on how they acquire food,” says lead author Mikel Delgado in a university news release.

The researchers believe that this idiosyncratic behavior allows squirrels to both remember where specific morsels are, and to hide other treats from animals that could steal them.

“Squirrels may use chunking the same way you put away your groceries. You might put fruit on one shelf and vegetables on another. Then, when you’re looking for an onion, you only have to look in one place, not every shelf in the kitchen,” adds Lucia Jacobs, the study’s senior author.

These findings were discovered through the study’s principal experiment in which the squirrels examined were subjected to a variety of conditions relating to the locations and types of nuts provided. The authors provided the squirrels with almonds, pecans, hazelnuts and walnuts and monitored via GPS tracking where on the university’s campus the critters would bury their bounty during the two-year experiment.

To determine whether the way they were being fed mattered in the experiment, the authors gave some squirrels their nuts in organized rows of fours, while others were given them in a random order. Some were fed the nuts at the site where they last buried a nut, and some were fed at a fixed location.

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The rodents, regardless of where they encountered or kept their nuts, were prone to separating them, even if they did so unconsciously.

“These observations suggest that when lacking the cognitive anchor of a central food source, fox squirrels utilize a different and perhaps simpler heuristic (problem-solving approach) to simply avoid the areas where they had previously cached,” the researchers conclude.

The full study was published last month in the journal Royal Society Open Science.

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Comments

          1. Sir! Do you doubt the social value of knowledge such as the first name of Mayor McCheese? The home address of the Hamburglar??

            You do a disservice to higher education, sir!

          2. Ahhh you’re right! I need to go to a liberal re-education and sensitivity training center immediately!

          1. Hmmm…I think we need a $30 million study on which had the greater effect, the BO or the halitosis, don’t you?

      1. You’ve got a big mouth. Too bad your brain doesn’t match. However, I notice you’re a Bernie Sanders fan, an obvious indication that puddles of mush occupy your skull instead of a brain. Socialism sucks, Joe. MAGA.

    1. I’m only surprised if the squirrels aren’t members of ANTIFA, in which case no one at Berkeley would give them a second glance.

    2. Yes, and cancer is still not cured and fusion power is still a dream and they spend money on this crap. Unreal.

      Bezerkeley.

      1. Bingo! Zillion other life saving uses for this money! How about how to build fireproof homes in tinder box forests? Or why we want to live in and near these forests ignoring the risks? How about helping the homeless get a life? Or pay for university pensions?!

        Or my favorite: Squirrel away some money for the next disaster! (couldn’t resist :-/ Oy vey. Seriously, is there anything we can do differently now that we know that squirrels are smarter than many humans?

        1. Environmentalists could allow people to clear the brush away from the perimeter of their homes, but they believe the houses should burn.

        2. the homeless dont have to worry about a house fire. most homes burnt in the recent fires are insured, risk mitigated by that, hardly ignored. Many homes were not in nor even near a forest. yet they burned, it was fire storm not simply a forest fire. Umiversity pensions are hardly a life saving thing. Seeing as you dont lkke the university study, why do you want to pay university pensions?

        3. What, go back to compressed earth blocks reinforced with plastered geo mesh so that the structure is earthquake safe.
          With fireproof clay tiles or metal roofing. Never work. Too costly. Too expensive. Not code approved. Too energy efficient.

      2. The people who study the nut-hoarding patterns of squirrels for two entire years aren’t of the same caliber as medical researchers or physicists.

        The “Nut Studies students” are ‘special’.

        1. anyone staying in academia to do a study as a postdoc is “special”. You have to have a special kind of Asperger’s to get to that point to begin with.

    3. I don’t know about where they specifically store their nuts but as a person who has raised many squirrels I can without any tax payer funding tell you that squirrels can usually smell when acorns and hickory nuts have worms or bad meat in them even without cracking them open. And people often assume that because they have small brains they are stupid animals, they are actually extremely intelligent and just like every other living animal they each have their own personality.

      1. Many animals are intelligent. Probably more intelligent than the humans who believe they are products of evolution.

    1. This probably only got approved for grant money, because the researchers promised to deliver some tenous link to climate change. It’s the biggest running scam in the science research community.

      1. I will hereby end the climate change controversy: The climate changes. It always has, and always will. As for evidence of the contribution of human activities to climate change, the DFOM (Data Falsification And Obfuscation Machine) has yet to produce the hoped-for results.

        We are switching from 120 to 240 Volts to rev up the output before the world catches on to the hoax.

    2. Yes, and cancer is still not cured and fusion power is still a dream and they spend money on this crap. Unreal.

      1. I don’t care how much they spend on whatever they want as long is it isn’t my tax dollars. All research should be 100% privately funded with the lone exception of possibly related to national defense. If research is worth doing a private company will fund it, including medical research.

          1. Gordon Ramsay . A true butt faced tu rd who don’t give a s ht and will eat ANYTHING just because he can.

        1. Rats are perfectly clean/delicious if you raise and prepare them properly. Lobster was once considered ‘scum’, and look what people think of that now.

  1. So these observers think they’ve discovered something? Hey guys, it’s called SORTING, and people and animals have been sorting forever. Calling it “Chunking” doesn’t make it new, or clever, or even news-worthy for that matter.

        1. Licensed to kill squirrels by the government of the United Nations. A man, free to kill squirrels at will. To kill, you must know your enemy, and in this case my enemy is a varmint. And a varmint will never quit – ever. They’re like the Viet Cong – Varmint Cong. So you have to fall back on superior intelligence and superior firepower. And that’s all she wrote.

    1. We have a ton of squirrels in my yard, they sit in that Pecan tree and Chuck the shells at us. I wonder if they know that they chunk and chuck at the same time!

      1. Steve, don’t give them any new ideas. Another 600,000 thousand dollar study to study why squirrels throw empty nut shells at people. When I was a kid 40 years ago in my backyard a squirrel dropped or threw a bone fragment at me out of a full size maple tree. I always wondered if the bone was from another squirrel or something a squirrel brought up to its squirrel nest for the purpose of throwing a people or other animals. I promise to not go over 500,000 thousand with my tax payer study..

        1. I’m kind of a junk hoarder myself and kept the bone fragment. Where do I send it to find out what animal it came from?

  2. “The rodents, regardless of where they encountered or kept their nuts, were prone to separating them, even if they did so unconsciously.”
    How did they determine that the squirrels did this unconsciously?? Hope no tax money went into this “study”.

      1. I’m surprised the squirrels haven’t dragged off and buried half the student body. After all, a nut is a nut.

        1. Yes but squirrels can tell which are good and which are rotten inside with no hope of recovery. Vastly superior to liberal voters.

    1. Yeah exactly how do they know that squirrels don’t normally just hide the specific nut around the tree that it comes from and in this case they had to just default to a best guess of where their little squirrel imaginations thought each tree had to be?

  3. Has anyone studied the brains of those who engage in these utterly inconsequential studies? They claim, of course, that all knowledge is inherently valuable, but what price the present location of the fly on my window sill? To an entomologist, no doubt worthy of a $1 million government grant. Whoops! It moved. Need another $million to examine the stimulus-response. (I’ll take the $million. It was a fly swatter.)

  4. This is precisely why Willy Wonka used them to determine which nuts were perfect. Nothing new here.

  5. Wow! Berkley… How do you gather all of the squirrel info AND still have time to PROTEST as much as you do… I see the educational system isn’t wasted! LOL – LOL – LOSERS!

  6. This study was RACIST! Black squirrels should have been given twice as many nuts to make up for a lifetime of oppression by white squirrels!

    1. When I was a kid growing up in Bloomington MN 40 years ago we only had grey squirrels. 40 years later we now have full white and full black squirrels and I when I got home from work today I had several black, white, and grey squirrels in my yard jumping around and chasing and playing with each other. I love watching diversity in nature. If a full black and a full white squirrel were to mate would the offspring be grey? Another million dollar tax payer study?

      1. Well your neighborhood must be racist because there are no yellow squirrels with slanty eyes, nor are there brown squirrels that like to eat burritos.

  7. A conclusion anyone would have arrived at upon observing activity in any forest north of the Mason-Dixon line this time of the year.

  8. I would like to know how the study was funded. Taxpayer funding for this sort of thing is driving the deficit through the roof. If it was privately funded or self funded in some way I’m fine with it.

    Having said that, it may not seem like useful information but such things build knowledge. Major breakthroughs are seldom made in isolation, they build upon thousands of data points collected in small studies like this.

    1. I really cannot foresee any useful “major breakthrough” based upon the discovery that squirrels like to organize their nuts. What is anybody supposed to do with that exactly?

        1. You gotta be kidding me, right? You’re going to compare Michael Faraday and others experimenting with electricity (which already was proving itself to be useful to mankind) to somebody observing that squirrels organize nuts? Ha!

          1. The point is no one knew what those early experiments would yield for society. At the time it was just tinkering around with weird junk. No one thought it would amount to much of anything. No need to be obtuse.

          2. This is deceptively false. It is fair to say that nobody knew for certain what technology would achieve, but the reality is that philosophers and scientists have been using deductive reasoning to make good educated guesses at the potential for certain types of research. For example Alexander Fleming was actually trying to discover a “wonder drug” because he accurately predicted what the potential would be if he succeeded.

            And regarding the theory of relativity, intellectuals have recognized a great importance regarding the subject of physics for thousands of years. Its understanding was integral even to the ancient Greeks and so it has always been seen as an important subject. So many great achievements have come from that field of study therefore anybody can rightly assume that more great achievements will come out of it. Physics is not “weird junk”. Wanting to create a wonder drug is not tinkering around with “weird junk”.

            These great breakthroughs all have something in common: the person was attempting to achieve something that was already objectively understood to have a value to mankind, before the discovery was made. It’s value was not only known after the discovery.

    2. I imagine this was done by students as part of their “education”. It’s typical for schools to charge a lot of money from their students to attend, then use the students time to produce “studies” and designs for which they will not get paid for.

  9. Though it seems like a huge waste of resources, I’m rather impressed that they didn’t decide to study nut allergies in squirrels.

  10. I’m no scholar, but I think these comments are pathetic.

    Everybody trying to show how clever they are, whilst in reality the squirrels have more dignity…

  11. If anybody knows anything about nuts it is Berkeley. I will brake down one sentence to prove my point. “The rodents, regardless of where they
    encountered or kept their nuts, were prone to separating them, even if
    they did so unconsciously”.
    Rodents = Students
    Encountered = Gender inequality, who or how to identify and address the Rodent
    Kept Their Nuts = Separated, Black nut from the White nuts not to hurt anybodies feelings their will be no white privilege at Berkeley
    Unconsciously = Professors, how they teach and the School board, the curriculum that is taught, all Unconsciously
    I bet when the showed the students a squirrel have of them passed out and the other half ran for their very lives. Good thing the squirrels didn’t have to go to Berkeley or they would have all starved while they put them in their safe spaces while the professors fondled their nuts trying to figure out their gender.

  12. When I saw “chunking” I thought they were going to prove that squirrels had been taught Common Core math…

  13. My wife feeds the squirrels in our neighborhood peanuts all year long.
    Little rats gave up sorting and storing long ago.

    They now actually sit by the door waiting for her.
    I had one (no lie) come up and tap me on the leg.

    They are all fat, lazy and demand food.
    Probably have coronary disease and are diabetic.

    In short, She turned them all into liberal Democrats.

  14. The article talks about fox squirrels, but the picture to me above looks like a gray squirrel. Are the ones in the video fox squirrels, most I’ve seen have much more orange color in their fur.

  15. Evolution not design. Right? Who would have thought that squirrels that did not organize would have gone extinct? Isn’t that what evolution teaches? Obviously there must have been squirrels along the evolutionary trail that could not organize their nuts and, therefore, went extinct. In other words, the ability of a squirrel to organize their food source must be key to their survival or why would they have “evolved” this instinct? The more we learn of how God gave each creature unique instincts the more we have to admit there is too much order in our universe for the statistically impossible “randomness” of evolution.

  16. It’s said that even a blind squirrel occasionally finds a nut.
    So it goes with this tremendous waste of money for ridiculous studies. Occasionally, we are maybe just slightly surprised to learn of yet another creature that is far more sophisticated, tolerant and peaceful than a Berkeley liberal.

  17. I had to look it up. Berkeley, California, really: “hierarchical”, “Though Process” ;right, not a liberal traits.
    chunking behavior: Sequence learning and production is a hierarchical process, such as in speech organization, behavioral sequences, and thought processes.

  18. So, squirrels aren’t so squirrelly after all. Of course, they have nothing else to do except collect nuts and make little squirrels, so organizing their nut storage system is natural. If they had a Netflix subscription so they could binge-stream “Game of Thrones,” I bet their nut storage system would look a lot more like my wife’s clothing closet — complete chaos.

  19. They didn’t need a study to make these conclusions. I live on a protected oak sanctuary, and I have two huge birdfeeders.

    I spend a fair bit on the best bird food you can buy, it consists of walnuts, pistachios, peanuts and smaller seeds like barley, thistle and others.

    My property has the fattest birds and squirrels imaginable, I often see the squirrels use one hole for peanuts, some stash walnuts in other holes or in exposed knots in trees (We have four types of woodpeckers) and all of them raid the squirrels stashes if they try to store them in trees.

    One time I noticed a mound on my front lawn, inside was a cache of only peanuts, so I watched the feeders and noticed this odd behavior of chunking.. My wallet also often gets chunked, high quality bird food isn’t cheap.

    1. Maybe the squirrel’s are smart enough to know if they plant the peanut nuts and seeds they will sprout the next year and produce (grow) more seeds/peanuts. I also have a bird feeder and feed both birds and squirrels and watch them burry nuts and seeds. I have come to the conclusion that sometimes the squirrels forget where they burry seed and nuts and I have them sprouting up all over my yard and in my garden. This is probably how lots of trees and plants get started in the forest.

  20. I do lots of chunking with women. Those with great tits, ass, shape, I grade them and put them in different folders.

  21. This is a critically important finding. We now know that we have to elect squirrels to govern us in order to make sure our nuts get saved…

  22. Squirrels Use Sophisticated Technique To Separate Nuts By Type, Study Finds. You mean they actually taste them first? That’s deep.

  23. As a resident of California we separate our nuts when we elect Democrats into office. Governor Brown is a walnut. He drives me up the wall. Pelosi is a coconut… she’s coo coo. Maxine Waters is a pea brain peanut.

  24. My bear cub is looking at colleges now and I told him he cannot even consider CA based schools.
    They are too crazy, too whacked out for an intelligent, logical, common sensical East Coast bear.

  25. THE SQUIRRELS ARE CHECKING TO SEE IF THE NUT IS ANY GOOD OR NOT. A HEAVY NUT MEANS NO WORM OR BUG HAS EATEN THE NUT. SQUIRRELS ALSO LAY OUT NUTS IN A GRID PATTERN. THEY DO THIS BASED UPON HILLSIDES, FLAT LAND AND WATER. SQUIRRELS ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR NEW TREE CREATION. SO THEY PUT THE RIGHT NUT, IN THE BEST SPOT, TO GROW THE RIGHT TREE, FOR THAT AREA! NOT ALL NUTS ARE PART OF THEIR WINTER HOARDS. ALL THEY HAD TO DO WAS ASK A SQUIRREL HUNTER! THEY ALSO MOVE FROM HOLLOW TO HOLLOW TO CUT NUTS. SOME TREE’S THEY DO NOT CUT THE NUTS. THE GRAY SQUIRRELS ARRIVE FIRST, USUALLY ABOUT 20″ TILL SUNRISE. FOX SQUIRRELS ARRIVE LATER. THE GRAY SQUIRRELS ARE ENERGETIC AND BARK A LOT. FOX SQUIRRELS ARE MORE SHY AND LIKE TO LAY ON LIMBS AND CUT. FOX SQUIRRELS SELDOM BARK. GREY SQUIRRELS ARE AGGRESSIVE. THEY ALSO RUN OFF FOX SQUIRRELS. THEY GO INTO THE NESTS OF FOX SQUIRRELS AND BITE OFF THE TESTICLES OF YOUNG FOX SQUIRRELS. WHEN THEY CUT, THE GREY SQUIRRELS CUTTING SOUNDS LIKE RAIN FALLING. WHEN A FOX SQUIRREL CUTS, HE CUTS QUIETER AND SLOWER, THAN DOES A GREY SQUIRREL.

  26. A sample size of 45 is nowhere close to being statistically significant. They need samples from all over, thousands of them, in order to determine whether the phenomenon is localized, unique, or universal.

  27. Squirrels in my area use a highly sophisticated binary mathematical system for grading and storing their nuts. A 1 means take it. A 0 means leave it. It’s uncanny! After a five year study I’ve discovered squirrels use a binary system just like early human software coders.

  28. It’s a little unfair to tie these researchers with the antifa nitwits and a$$wipes, Berkeley hosts two ROTC units and site of the former Manhattan Project. A quick google will show their contribution to science and technology for this country can not be overstated.

  29. My dog just murdered a squirrel the other day. I protected him from the authorities by disposing of him in the Monday trash pickup.

  30. Not that it isn’t interesting to learn things about animal behavior and abilities, but it must be great to have a career that pays you to study nearby squirrels.

  31. The Moral of the story … Squirrels know the difference in nuts & Numb Nuts do studies on why squirrels are smarter than them.

  32. Is anyone else sick of watching tax dollars go to Lefty and Commie-infested public schools where they conduct “research” like this? These same schools sponsor outrageous anti-Western garbage as well that produces students and faculty that hate the civilization that made them possible.

  33. I will share this knowledge … a squirrel will drop it’s nuts chucking for the golden treasure of a “Cheese It ” cracker.

  34. YEAH, DEMOCRATS ON ONE PILE, LIBERALS ON THE OTHER PILE, RINOS ON A THIRD PILE, SNOWFLAKES ON THE FOURTH, AD INFINITUM!

  35. A few years ago squirrels planted black walnuts for me, and did almost too good a job. We had a lots of walnuts on the ground in the front yard. I hauled a few wheelbarrows out to the back of our small acreage, where there were no walnut trees, so the squirrels could plant them for me. I knew they would lose a few, but it seems like they lost track of most of them, because now I’m having to grub out the far too many walnut trees growing out back. (They don’t die easily.)

    AFAIK it wasn’t done by fox squirrels like those in the study. Maybe cnn or npr squirrels.

    I enjoyed reading about this study, but am not used to this concept of squirrels keeping their nuts in groups. I would like to know more.

  36. Squirrels are a gift from God to the world to plant trees to filter the air & rain, and all they want to do is raise a family and plant trees. Never ever run over a squirrel.

  37. Okay, I grew up in the country. We made squirrel gravy. True and it was pretty good on pheasant with mashed potatoes.

  38. Road kill is comprised of many clueless squirrels, but comparatively few humans.

    My herb garden, free of any nuts whatsoever — squirrels neither bury nor unearth any — is savaged by imbecilic squirrels who are either wasting their time or simply amusing themselves by vandalizing a crop.

    Conclusion: Squirrels are less intelligent even than UC Berkeley researchers.

  39. John Muir’s favorite animal was the Douglas Tree Squirrel. H.D. Thoreau loved watching the tree squirrels as well.

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