Squirrels are surprisingly choosy about their rocks and will spend a good deal of time examining several before they select one that is ‘right’ for them.
Sometimes they go out of their way to lick them first, but not always, which is very odd. Plus, a squirrel will return over and over to the same place to take rocks. Why do squirrels bury rocks?
Squirrels will cache or bury rocks randomly to create false food stashes to prevent other animals who follow them to dig up their hard work and steal their food.
Why Do Squirrels Collect Rocks
Caching issues aside, squirrels have plenty of good reasons to want a few rocks. Although squirrels aren’t as intelligent and advanced as crows or ravens, they are still very smart animals.
More importantly, they can use rocks as tools, though squirrels are not on the list of animals that are generally accepted as tool-users.
Some birds, apes, monkeys, otters, and even octopuses are in this esteemed category and use the same tools often. Indeed, they don’t do so regularly.
They also don’t pass the techniques on to their young. However, squirrels have been observed using tools on rare occasions, and rocks might be one of those tools depending on how they’re used.
1 – Dulling their Teeth
For humans like you and me, dull teeth can be a problem. It can expose the pulp of our teeth, causing substantial pain and eventual tooth loss.
This is not the case for squirrels who need to continually dull their teeth by gnawing on hard surfaces like nuts, bones, and rocks. Sadly, a squirrel who fails to maintain its teeth can quickly end up unable to eat at all.
As Discover Widcare explains, “Squirrels are rodents, and one characteristic of rodents is that their teeth continue to grow throughout their lives. Rodents need to chew on hard objects to help keep their teeth at the proper length. These amazing teeth align perfectly in the rodent’s mouth, and both top and bottom teeth wear away perpetually at the same rate. This is a necessary adaptation, as rodents use their strong jaws and teeth as their primary tools for everything from cracking into food to accessing den space.”
2 – Tooth Sharpening
Dull teeth are just the start of a squirrel’s necessary dental care routine. Keeping their teeth from overgrowing is vital, but it doesn’t get them inside the really tough nuts.
For that job, a squirrel needs sharp teeth. Using bones and textured rocks also allows a squirrel to make its teeth sharp enough to cut into the hard outer shells of some of its favorite foods so the squirrel can get at the tender nutmeat inside.
3 – For Building Their Homes
Whether it’s an underground den or an arboreal nesting drey, squirrels put a lot of work into making their homes. In springtime and summer, they create a breathable style.
Then, when the weather gets cold, they shore up the dreys with more sticks and leaves or grasses to stay warmer with the squirrels inside.
In addition to using plant fibers, a mother squirrel will add fur from her own tail to make a warm-season nest more comfortable for her young.
However, the most arguably overlooked home building material these fluffy rodents use is rock. Most squirrel homes have at least a few small stones included.
4 – Self Defense
There’s a great deal of debate about whether squirrels throw anything. Some sources insist they can’t, while others claim they have been pelted intentionally by squirrels more than once.
I am not a biologist who specializes in squirrel behavior, so I cannot arbitrate this particular debate.
That said, I have included self-defense as a possible use for the rocks squirrels collect.
Not only do some people claim firsthand experience with rock-throwing squirrels, but I can’t imagine going to all the trouble to haul pebbles up a tree and into your home if you’re not using them as more than uncomfortable pillows.
5 – Salt & Minerals
One of the things people have observed squirrels regularly doing when hunting for pebbles and rocks is licking them.
Interestingly, any geologist can tell you that there are numerous types of stones you can identify by licking them. However, I doubt squirrels are practicing amateur geology.
It seems much more likely that the squirrels are looking for minerals or salt in the rocks.
According to Song Bird Garden, “The gray squirrel requires some salt in its diet and may find this salt in the soil along roads where snow and ice may have been. “
6 – Craftiness
Squirrels are intelligent creatures, which means they are capable problem solvers. This is both a benefit and a problem for squirrels who want to bury their nuts for the winter.
Savvy squirrels may be burying rocks instead of nuts to throw off other squirrels who steal.
Craftiness and decoy stones are rotten luck for thieving squirrels who go to the trouble of stalking the working squirrels and then dig up their efforts only to find nothing.
It’s also problematic for harvesting squirrels who need to waste time burying fake nuts. However, it’s hard to confirm this because people only recently noticed that squirrels are stealing rocks.
More importantly, no studies have been done to verify why they do this.
It is noteworthy that up to one-fifth of squirrels are making their living by sealing from other squirrels. It may seem like a lot, but BBC’s Spy In The Wild has Documented the process.
The video below shows an ordinary squirrel thief at work.
Helpful Tips To Know About Why Squirrels Bury Rocks
Squirrels may be burying rocks for any number of reasons. Until scientists have the time and funding to study the subject further, we won’t know for sure what the significance and function are to the squirrels.
Here are more helpful tips to know about why squirrels bury rocks.
- In addition to burying rocks, squirrels sometimes leave them places. Squirrels have been known to put rocks on fence posts, in their homes, and even in plant pots without burying them.
- If squirrels use rocks as decoy food stashes and tooth care devices, they are showing surprisingly advanced signs of evolution. Though no squirrel has yet been observed passing its technique to others or stealing it by watching another use it, it is still a possible sign that squirrels are further advanced as a species than previously thought.
- Squirrels often choose rocks that are roughly the size and shape of acorns. However, they will also pass up food to go rock hunting, so they clearly understand that these pebbles are not food.
Squirrels collect and bury rocks. They also place rocks in other locations without bothering to conceal them. Scientists and observers know that they are very picky about which rocks are the correct ones, but for now, there are only theories about why.
Hopefully, soon, someone with the right tools and background will have the ability to do an in-depth study that reveals the correlation between squirrels and the rocks they bury, or horde, or move to new locations. Until then, it remains one of nature’s mysteries.