Where Have All the Acorns Gone?

I’m a little late in posting this, but the Washington Post asks: What’s up with no acorns this year? Even the squirrels are unhappy:

“The idea seemed too crazy to Rod Simmons, a measured, careful field botanist. Naturalists in Arlington County couldn’t find any acorns. None. No hickory nuts, either. Then he went out to look for himself. He came up with nothing. Nothing crunched underfoot. Nothing hit him on the head.

Then calls started coming in about crazy squirrels. Starving, skinny squirrels eating garbage, inhaling bird feed, greedily demolishing pumpkins. Squirrels boldly scampering into the road. And a lot more calls about squirrel roadkill.”

Read the article to find out just what the heck is going on with the Season of No Acorns!

If Acorns Are Poisonous, Why Do Squirrels Eat Them Like I Eat Cupcakes?

Good question, right?

According to Aiken-Standard columnist Bill Hayes, it’s complicated. He wasn’t sure himself so he did a lot of research, such as:

“I found all sorts of stories about Native Americans eating acorns as part of their daily diet. I also found one article that said that the average life span of the American Indian was 30 years but made no reference to acorns as being part of the problem. Because of the high tannin content in red acorns the bitterness was probably strong enough to discourage all but the very hungry.”

As it turns out, some acorns — but not all — are poisonous. And a little biological mechanism at work known as adaptation helps our squirrel friends eat most acorns without any problems.

Read Bill’s column to find out what that adaptation is, and which acorns should stay out of your daily recommended allowance.

Endangered U.K. Red Squirrels Developing Immunity to Virus?

Finally, a bit of good news for the dwindling red squirrel population in the United Kingdom: They may be making a comeback, thanks to increasing immunity against a deadly squirrel pox virus.

We’ve been covering the red squirrel dilemma for a long time (which has involved slaughtering and eating grey squirrels so as to reduce their invasive population — they are immune to the virus) so any good news is a sight for sore squirrel bloggers’ eyes.

Female Red Squirrel ‘Surprisingly’ Promiscuous

On an average day, the female red squirrel has 8 or 9 mates, according to researcher Jeffrey Lane, who was interviewed in an article for The Edmonton Journal.

The makes the little randy red “among the most promiscuous of animals,” the article said.

Just how open-minded are these squirrels? Very, Lane said.

“Nothing is too taboo for the busy female red squirrel, who will even mate with relatives as close as brother and father.”

Black Squirrels Move to England, Stirring…Racism?

The Washington City Paper blog has an intriguing article on the emerging presence of black squirrels in the U.K.

For those of you that have never seen them, black squirrels look just like greys, but are darker and have silkier hair. I think they’re prettier, and I’d been told that they were simply a genetic variant – much like the many hues of kittens that can be found in just one litter.

Apparently, however, it appears that the British press — already worried about the decimation of the local, indigenous red squirrel population (the original Squirrel Nutkin was a red squirrel) — is now fussing over the emergence of black squirrels, blaming the black squirrels as being more “testosterone-charged… fitter, faster and more fiercely competitive than both reds or greys.”

Huh?

Also: “Sex selection is also boosting their numbers because female greys appear to prefer them as mates.”

Yes, I’m starting to giggle now.

The City Paper‘s criticism: “The Black Squirrel Heads to England, Inspires Subtly Racist Science Reporting

and the U.K. Daily Mail article that is mentioned: “The pack of mutant black squirrels that are giving Britain’s grey population a taste of their own medicine

Squirrels Focus of Climate Change Research?

Apparently paleontologists are examining fossil records of California ground squirrels to see how a currently warming world is affecting animals, although this DailyGazette.com article doesn’t really do a good job of explaining why. Ah, science journalism — such a tricky thing.

Back when the world was really hot and wet, all animals were larger in size, since hot and wet means tropical, and tropical means plentiful, year-round food supplies.

Then, the earth cooled, and animals shrunk in size. And shivered a lot more.

In the near future, as weather patterns are expected to shift rapidly (and some would say already are) scientists expect the size of animals to change. Or, I think that’s what the research is getting at. It’s not totally clear in this article.

Actually, I think the research was simply meant to study old fossils (which is fine with me) but the public relations department was desperate to find a current news peg. What’s hot? Global warming. Let’s tie it all together and see if we can get some publicity.

Job done.