Why Do Squirrels Throw Acorns

Why Do Squirrels Throw Acorns

Many animals run and hide when it comes to self-defense, but not squirrels. In fact, squirrels are known for their willingness to ‘yell’ at people and animals they see as invaders in their territory.

They certainly bite and scratch as well, and a sick squirrel can even potentially transmit diseases, but what about other defenses? Why do squirrels throw acorns?

The main reason squirrels throw acorns is for self-defense. They not only will throw acorns at predators to deter them, but a mother squirrel will throw acorns at males who want to mate with them that will go after defenseless baby squirrels in the nest. Squirrels do have the range of motion in their front paws to throw acorns.

Can A Squirrel Throw An Acorn

Before I can start to answer the question about squirrels throwing acorns specifically, we need to look at whether it’s physically possible for a squirrel to make a throwing gesture at all.

Otherwise, they might only be able to drop acorns. If a squirrel can raise its front paws out and up in front of its face and head and drop them back down, then it could make a primitive throwing motion.

The video below is just squirrels moving around a backyard. However, the slow-motion capture allows us to easily see that, as they run, squirrels stretch their hands forward and above or in front of their heads and then bring them back down the body again.

So, yes, a squirrel has the range of motion to throw an acorn.

The Argument About Acorn Throwing

Regrettably, because we lack official data on squirrels throwing things, all I can offer you are people’s various arguments.

The argument against throwing acorns is straightforward. People say that a squirrel wouldn’t bother to throw perfectly good, valuable food they gathered.

This makes sense given that they have to go to a lot of trouble to gather and cache the food for winter. However, the only evidence for this is that there is no footage of squirrels throwing things.

A lack of proof is not evidence of anything either way.

Meanwhile, the evidence for squirrels throwing nuts and acorns is only that a few people claim to have seen it or been the victim of malicious acorn throwing squirrels.

Again, there’s no actual proof except the people who say it happened.

Why Do Squirrels Throw Nuts

Squirrels do not definitely throw nuts. However, it seems likely that they would in some circumstances, if only because they were surprised.

Below I’ve made a list of all the reasonable occasions when a squirrel might throw nuts or acorns. However, please remember that this is all theory until a biologist or wildlife expert can verify it happened.

1 – Startled Guilt and Surprise

Have you ever seen someone throw something away when they are surprised? It happens regularly, though some people are more prone to this behavior than others.

Sometimes it’s associated with guilt when a person has something they shouldn’t in their hands and gets caught.

A squirrel could undoubtedly have the same ‘knee jerk’ reaction and throw a nut away if another squirrel happened on them unexpectedly.

It’s hard to say whether this is a guilt reaction. However, as many as one-fifth of all squirrels are raiding other squirrels’ nut stashes to create their own caches.

Do thieving squirrels feel bad or guilty enough to try and toss evidence? They might.

According to Squirrelgazer, they feel frustration, “… when the squirrels… did not get the walnut they were expecting they began to behave strangely. Squirrels… would flag their tails and at times attack the box… Aggression is another big sign of frustration, which explains why many of the squirrels given locked boxes actually attacked the box by biting and dragging it… The takeaway here is that humans are not the only animals who feel and express emotions like frustration.”

Frustration is not guilt, but it’s enough to tell us that squirrels have feelings.

2 – Self Defense

Squirrels are easy targets for other animals. There are even people who believe squirrels are immortal because carcasses of these apparently tasty rodents are in short supply. Once they die, other animals eat them promptly.

Of course, not all animals enjoy carrion. You have to be fast to hunt squirrels, but owls and other predators manage it. Throwing a nut at a bird or other predator would be an intelligent way to hurt them and deter further attacks.

3 – Home Defense And Distraction

Not all defense is about self-preservation. Mother squirrels have to think of their young.

Not only regular squirrel predators, but sometimes males who want to mate will go after defenseless baby squirrels in the nesting dray.

A mother squirrel could throw anything she had on hand to help protect her nest and young.

As What Do Squirrels Eat explains, “Unlike other animals at birth, baby squirrels can’t do anything on their own. They require intensive care as they develop… Baby squirrels need care for about three months.”

4 – Dropped To Collect Later

Squirrels’ cheeks can hold a lot of food. However, flying squirrels don’t have the cheek pouches of their cousins.

By scampering up a tree and tossing down a bunch of nuts, a squirrel can collect up food and bury it more easily. I believe this is the most likely reason for a squirrel to throw nuts.

5 – Harassing Predators

Squirrels are fond of yelling at predators and invaders within their territory. The next logical step would be to try and scare them away with more than sound, but squirrels, for all their bravery, are small.

The advantage of height in a tree might provide the perfect place to stay safe and throw nuts to harass predators away from where the squirrels live.

Helpful Tips To Know About Why Squirrels Throw Acorns

Are squirrels throwing acorns, or are they merely clumsy at times, dropping them by accident? It’s hard to say, and the study of whether squirrels throw nuts isn’t high up on any priority list for academic funding.

Here are more helpful tips to know about why squirrels throw acorns.

  • There are many accounts of why squirrels throw things and why they can’t. However, the best explanation I have found for why they probably don’t comes from WY Pest Control which says, “The limbs of squirrels are suitable for climbing and digging, but not for throwing.” They go on to say that squirrels wouldn’t be accurate throwers, though they are probably smart enough to do so.
  • Since squirrels feel frustration, they could be throwing nuts out of annoyance as well. A squirrel has an excellent sense of smell, so they likely know when a nut has gone off. It’s possible that an annoyed squirrel could aggressively throw out rotten food.
  • When many squirrels live near each other, food cache thievery is more common. One in five squirrels doesn’t bother to do the work of collecting nuts and supplies at all but rather follow their more industrious fellows around. A squirrel might throw a nut to distract a thief so they could get out of sight and bury their food in peace. It may seem like very advanced thinking for squirrels, but they already fake-bury food to distract thieves, so sacrificing a nut might be worth the effort.

Final Thoughts

Squirrels might throw acorns and other nuts. However, if they do, then their aim probably isn’t great. Yet, squirrels could be dropping nuts and acorns regularly and more accurately.

It’s weird how little evidence there is to prove one way or the other that squirrels throw acorns. Some people claim they have had it happen personally, while others insist it’s physically and logically impossible.

The only ones who know for sure are the squirrels, and they aren’t telling.

Ted Smith

My name is Ted Smith and I’m the creator of AnimalThrill.com. I have a passion for educating people about animals and wildlife. I have been working with the National Wildlife Federation for the past 10 years and I became a wildlife blogger to help people become excited about animals and encouraged to care for these wonderful creatures.

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