Why a Squirrel Stashed 50 Pounds of Pine Cones in a Car

Many animals have discovered that human-made objects are even better than what's found in nature.

Published 11 Jun 2018, 19:07 BST
An American red squirrel chews on a pine cone, its favourite food, in Maine's Acadia National ...
An American red squirrel chews on a pine cone, its favourite food, in Maine's Acadia National Park.
Photograph by Brian Gordon Green, National Geographic Creative

Nature can be brutal—so it's no surprise some creatures find being around humans more comfortable, whether it's a place to sleep or raise their young.

Here are some animals that decided human habitats looked like better homes and larders.

Red Squirrels

When your car is making funny sounds, you never think the problem could be a stash of squirrel food.

Wildlife expert Marne Titchenell suspects a red squirrel is the likely culprit that recently stored about 50 pounds of pine cones under the hood of a young Michigan man’s car, according to the local TV station WVLT 8.

Squirrels are cavity nesters, and will look for a little hole in a concealed area in which to live and store their food, says Titchenell, a wildlife program specialist at Ohio State University. They may even give birth there.

Red squirrels are “one of the bigger food hoarders that humans may interact with,” she says.

The rodents create huge piles of food called middens that can keep them going for several seasons—and are sometimes also discovered by future generations of squirrels. Middens in forests can span up to 20 feet in length.

And since red squirrels can breed twice a year, a generation might only be six months apart.

Acorn Woodpeckers

Acorn woodpeckers of North and Central America “will peck a little hole that an acorn will fit in perfectly, and then they will shove that acorn in the hole,” Titchenell says.

These “granaries” are usually trees, but the birds will also drill into telephone poles, fence posts, and, in one dramatic case, a wireless antenna in California. They can store as many as 50,000 acorns in one granary.

Like the squirrels, the food stashes can also be a valuable inheritance for later family members that come along.

An acorn woodpecker poses near its stash of acorns. The birds can also store their food in human-made objects, such as telephone poles.

Photograph by George Grall, National Geographic Creative


Beavers build dams to create still water for their underwater homes, called lodges, where the rodents cache food for the winter. North American beavers range throughout most of North America and down into Mexico. (See "Beavers Have Vanilla-Scented Butts and Other Odd Facts.”)

Sometimes, though, beavers build their dams in human-made culverts, which can cause roads to flood.

Fencing around shoreline trees can discourage the brilliant engineers from using that site and its timber and water flow devices can prevent flooding

A family of beavers inside their lodge in Grand Teton National Park.

Photograph by Charlie Hamilton James, National Geographic Creative


When a honeybee colony seeks to expand, they don’t mind having a few human roommates.

The insects will sometimes find a cavity in a human-made wall (as opposed to a tree cavity) with one guardable entrance, says Denise Ellsworth, director of the Honeybee and Native Pollinator Education program at Ohio State University.

Unfortunately, this can lead to a sticky problem: Huge colonies can grow inside the walls of homes and go undetected for years—until honey begins oozing out of walls, ceilings, and even electrical sockets.

If a homeowner experiences this, Ellsworth recommends calling a local beekeeping group.

They'll recommend someone to remove the comb and will be glad to get “free bees"—and as vital pollinators, we need every bee we can get.

Have a question about the weird and wild world? Tweet me or find me on Facebook. Weird Animal Question of the Week answers your questions every Saturday.

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