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A Scurry of Scatter-Hoarders

With fewer tree nuts than in recent years, squirrels are going crazy

I’m under attack. Everywhere I look, squirrels are scampering up trees, toting nuts in their mouths, scurrying across my yard and darting in front of my car.
    The word squirrel was borrowed by the Romans from the Greek word skiouros, which means shadow-tailed. Ancient Greek naturalists found their bushy tails remarkable.
    I find the bushy-tailed scamps a daily nuisance. I’m dodging them like the flippers in a vintage pinball arcade game, the squirrels the steel balls. Squirrel-conscious, I’m driving at a crawl, on high alert down my own driveway, in my Huntingtown neighborhood and even on highways.
    My dog finds them a delight, chasing them away from the bird feeders and up the trees. But her efforts are short-lived, and her job a never-ending cycle. They always return, often by the handfuls.
    A scurry — the name for a group of squirrels — fits the bill. The outbreak of squirrels is driven — without regard to anyone or anything that crosses their paths — by food.
    Squirrels have voracious appetites. In one week’s time, each eats almost its body weight.
    Expert gatherers and scatter-hoarders, they spend the day seeking nuts and seeds. What they don’t eat, they hide so they’ll have enough food to last through the winter.
    As scatter-hoarders, squirrels bury food in hundreds of different locations. If another squirrel or animal finds one location — or if the squirrel forgets where it stashed the food — they have back-ups to rely on.
    “Squirrels are going crazy,” confirms naturalist Andy Brown of Battle Creek Cypress Swamp.
    “They have enjoyed several years of good feeding with high nut production in our forests and neighborhoods,” Brown explains. “But this spring, an outbreak of a small silkworm defoliated our hickory tress. The trees did eventually re-leaf but didn’t flower. Hence, we have no hickory nuts this fall.”
    Additionally, Brown says “The tasty white oak acorns are fewer this year due to a natural cycle, so squirrels are getting a double whammy.”
    In this frenzied scrambling for food and with winter around the corner, squirrels naturally dart back and forth. Fright heightens their erratic paths as they try to confuse predators. This doesn’t work with cars, however, so most squirrels don’t live longer than a year. The evidence mounts up on the sides of the road, with fatalities increasing as the weather turns colder.