The Incredible Squirrel
In the past five years I have gotten interested in observing wild birds, and as a part of that I have put up some feeders in the backyard to attract them. Our home is close to a river and the variety of birds we have been able to attract has been astounding. Our chief antagonists in our feeders consist of a variety of squirrels who raid our bird feeders with remarkable efficiency. We have tried putting the feeders high in the air, putting buffers on the feeders, putting obstacles on the approaches to our feeders and even tall slippery poles--all to no avail. I have seen squirrels jump many times their body length to reach a feeder. I have watched them hang upside down for long periods of time to empty a food slot.
I recently attended a program in which studies of the brains of animals were being discussed. The question of long term and short term memories of animals were explained as being totally random. Some birds seem to be able to find their ways back to the same nesting site even though their migration pattern takes them thousands of miles away in the winter. Squirrels have a partial memory capability. Studies of the squirrel in our area of the country have shown about a 20% recollection ability when it comes to the food they store. Squirrels will bury nuts in the ground to provide food for the winter months. About 80% of these food supplies are not used by the squirrels, so they typically bury much more food than they can possibly eat.
You might consider this to be bad waste of energy and even food that might be eaten by other living things. The fact is that the squirrel's bad memory is vital to the plants whose nuts the squirrel eats. If the squirrel remembered every nut it might be an advantage to the squirrel and might even improve his chance for survival. The tree, however, would have its reproductive capacity brought to a grinding halt. Squirrels are omnivorous enough to shift to another food source; but the bad memory of the squirrel is vital for the plants whose seed the squirrel eats to survive.
The fact that some animals have total recall and others have partial recall is no accident. In each case it is a design feature that allows the world in which we live to function in a beautiful way.
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