Smart Squirrels Use Sophisticated Memory Strategy to Sort Fav Nuts

There have been a number of recent animal cognition studies focusing on the superb memory abilities of squirrels  and this latest study serves to confirm these findings. In this recent study researchers found that squirrels use ‘chunking’ (a memory function used by humans to remember large numbers of items by organizing the details into little groups or chunks) to organize their stashes of nuts by variety, quality and possibly even preference. Outstanding!


Squirrels use ‘chunking’ to organize their favorite nuts

Like trick-or-treaters sorting their Halloween candy haul, fox squirrels apparently organize their stashes of nuts by variety, quality and possibly even preference, according to new UC Berkeley research.

The study, published today in the Royal Society Open Science journal, is the first to show evidence of squirrels arranging their bounty using “chunking,” a cognitive strategy in which humans and other animals organize spatial, linguistic, numeric or other information into smaller more manageable collections, such as subfolders on a computer.

Fox squirrels stockpile at least 3,000 to 10,000 nuts a year and, under certain conditions, separate each cache into quasi “subfolders,” one for each type of nut, researchers said…

Presumably, sophisticated caching techniques maximize the squirrels’ ability to remember where they’ve stored their most prized treats while at the same time hiding them from potential pilferers, the researchers said.


“Squirrels may use chunking the same way you put away your groceries. You might put fruit on one shelf and vegetables on another. Then, when you’re looking for an onion, you only have to look in one place, not every shelf in the kitchen.”

-Dr. Lucia Jacobs, researcher, psychology professor, UC Berkeley


Journal Reference: Mikel M. Delgado, Lucia F. Jacobs. Caching for where and what: evidence for a mnemonic strategy in a scatter-hoarder. Royal Society Open Science, 2017; 4 (9): 170958 DOI: 10.1098/rsos.170958