Pine cones are present in coniferous forests. However, you might wonder why animals would want to eat pine cones. They are hard and not edible in any way if you look at them. Still, you see little animals like squirrels carrying them around, but do squirrels eat pine cones?
Yes, squirrels do eat pine cones. If you come across any carrying pine cones in their mouth, you must be curious to know why they have them around in their mouth. You’ll be surprised to know that squirrels utilize pine cones in more than one way.
Despite the fact, squirrels not only eat pine cones but also eat meat and other things, they are omnivores not just herbivores. In this article, we will dig deep into why squirrels eat pine cones, how they benefit from them, and how to stop squirrels from eating pine cones.
What Are Pine Cones?
The pine cones belong to the class Gymnospermae. They are pine trees that bear no fruit or flower. In layman’s terms, they are called ‘ naked seeds.’
They usually have the following characteristics that set them apart from other plants:
- Pines cones are woody
- They are cone-shaped in appearance
- Pine cones have scales and bracts arranged around their central axis
- The female cone produces seeds
- The male cone produces pollen
The pine cones are essential to keeping the pine trees safe and well-protected from cold temperatures. The pine cones close their ‘scales’ tightly, so the seeds are well-protected from the cold weather, ice, wind, and even animals.
The characteristics also vary depending on the species. The white pine cones have long, slender cones. The red pine has short, rounded cones with seeds that exist in pairs. This helps in their identification. For further ease in the title, you can dry cones in a paper bag, and then they can be shaken loose.
Why Do Pine Trees Drop Their Pine Cones?
The male cones produce pollen in their breeding season. Once these pollens reach the female cones via the wind or animal dispersal, the process of pollination occurs. This can be defined as the process in which the male pollen grains enter the female reproductive system to fertilize the egg.
Once pollination has occurred successfully, with time (two to three years), these pollinated seeds start growing, and the peel starts to come off. The cones protrude out, eventually falling to the ground after drying up.
Once the pine cone has fallen from a tree, it can still close and open. The scales are in an open configuration when they have dried up as the outer parts shrink more than their inner ones. Hence, they pull away from the cones.
On the contrary, when cones are wet, their scales are shut. People who discover wet cones, dry the cones first by heating them in an oven. They do this so that the scales of cones can open up.
Why Do Squirrels Eat Pine Cones?
The squirrels do not eat pine cones themselves, but instead, they feed on the seeds inside. The squirrels also keep collecting a lot of pine cones and storing them for later eating seeds. The squirrels get a lot of nutrition from these pine seeds.
One significant benefit is that these pine cones remain fresh throughout winter. So, the squirrels can have food reserves for themselves in dire conditions.
The squirrels have mastered reaching inside the pines to get to the seeds. The squirrels also inflict damage on the pine trees, but before making up your mind, you should know how they do this.
Pines can be of different types, and green pine cones are the best ones with respect to their nutritional content. They have the following composition of nutrients:
- Vitamin K
All these are essential minerals and crucial for the survival of a squirrel. That is why the squirrels run after gathering cones for themselves as they act as a perfect and compact food source for their thriving.
Type Of Pine Squirrels
Pine squirrels are small tree squirrels with bushy tails. There are three pine squirrels; The Mearns, The American Red Squirrel, and The Doughlas. Let us explore each one in-depth.
These live in the fir and dry pine forests of California. They weigh about 9.5 ounces. These squirrels have adapted a lot to their environment. For instance, they dig burrows or build leaf nests for nesting. They reside in tree cavities, but only if they are deep enough.
This also means that trees are essential for their survival. They collect pine cones and eat them for their survival in the forest. For squirrels living in such a habitat, relying on cones is their sole option.
American Red Squirrels
They can be recognized by their deep red color and small size, which is only 6 to 7 inches long. Their mating season is in February and August. The American Red Squirrel is also called a ‘Chickaree.’
Besides the pine cones, they feed on fruits, mushrooms, nuts, seeds, and sap from the trees. These red squirrels are the most widely distributed pine squirrels.
They are primarily found in Alaska and Canada. Some sub-species can also be found in North America. However, there is one characteristic that is common to all species, which is that the red squirrels inhabit the conifer forests. Seldom do they go towards other woods.
Douglas Pine Squirrels
They are also called ‘squirrels of the squirrels’ They are noisy and agile squirrels who are constantly on the move to gain your attention. They have thick hair on their bodies, and the color can differ depending on the season. In summer, it is reddish-brown, while in winter, it is grayish overall.
These squirrels build nests in summer by gathering mosses, twigs, and barks. However, in winter, they like to stay inside the tree cavities or go inside the underground burrows.
Besides spending their day collecting pines, these squirrels gather buds, tree sap, mushrooms, fruits, and acorns. However, to this date, their primary diet continues to be the conifer seeds.
How Do Squirrels Eat Pine Cones?
The squirrels have a distinct way of eating pine cones, which we consider inedible due to the presence of hard scales. A squirrel first gathers all the cones that it needs to feed on. Secondly, it chews off the scales till it reaches the core of the cone.
As each scale falls off, pair of seeds are exposed to the squirrel. Though getting rid of scales is complex, the squirrels have strong claws and teeth that are just there to complete this job efficiently.
The squirrel has to make small turns in a spiral way so that more and more scales are exposed at an angle.
If you live near the coniferous forests, you might see a pile of cones lying in the woods that are half-chewed up and discarded. Sometimes there are piles of cones in a particular area of a forest. All these are signs of squirrels living in an area.
Do Baby Squirrels Eat Pine Cones?
Whether there are adult squirrels or young ones, they love eating cones. They try to get hold of all the pines they can find in the woods. The squirrels can either have the green immature female pine cones or the mature ones, which the brown.
However, baby squirrels prefer green pine cones. They are unripe ones. Why do they do this? This is because the green pines are tender, a little juicy, nutritious, and delicious in taste for the baby squirrels to feed on.
Like their parents, the baby squirrels also have a habit of storing green pines in their territory to prepare for the winter stretching ahead. The green pines last for a more extended period than the brown ones.
However, if the circumstances are dire and the squirrels cannot find the green pines, they will nibble away on the brown pine cones too!
Do Grey Squirrels Eat Pine Cones?
Yes, grey squirrels do eat pine cones. A squirrel likes to collect pine cones and then eat the seeds inside them. Grey squirrels also store these pine cones to eat their seeds later. Generally, the squirrels pick the brown and green female pine cones as they find their seeds delicious.
The grey squirrels prefer eating pine cones as they get a lot of nutrients from them. Pine seeds are dry and can be stored for a long time by squirrels. However, squirrels do not stick to just eating pine cones. They also enjoy keeping other dry nuts like walnuts, acorns, and hickory nuts.
Do Squirrels Chew Pine Trees?
A squirrel wants the pine cones from the pine trees but during this, does it chew the bark of pine trees? The answer is yes. The squirrels may bite off or strip the bark of a pine tree to drink the sap from it.
Sometimes, due to weather conditions, the squirrels need a home, and they create one by making holes in the tree trunks and chewing them off so that it becomes more prominent and more significant for them to settle.
It is not only the pine trees that the squirrels chew off. The fox, gray, and pine squirrels always try to chew the bark off orchard trees. The squirrels are capable of causing harm not only to the trees but also to the lawns while searching for nuts or busy burying them underground.
What Part Of Pine Cones Do Squirrels Eat?
A squirrel loves to chew on the seeds of pine cones. They are pine nuts. They can be found deep within the pine cones. The squirrels have strong claws that help them pave their way through the thick scales of the pines. Squirrels get rid of the pine scales.
The squirrels also have a habit of collecting green pine cones. They like to collect them when they are fresh so they can store them until they turn brown and hard. Later on, the squirrels take the seeds out of them and feed on them to gain nutrition.
What Time Of Year Do Squirrels Eat Pine Cones?
The pines exist in cold areas, and you cannot expect to find them in areas where the weather is hot. They can only be found in coniferous forests. So, we can say that the squirrels find these cones all year in coniferous forests but mainly during the winter.
Moreover, the squirrels do not hibernate. That is why they need food stores to help sustain themselves during the cold weather. For this reason, they find it easy and convenient to collect and store pine cones in bulk.
They can quickly get all the nutrients they need by feeding on these pine cones. This ensures their survival and helps them survive the harsh winter season in coniferous forests.
Are Pine Squirrels Destructive?
The squirrels may appear very innocent by their appearance, but they can be destructive toward the property. The good thing is that they are harmless to human beings.
The squirrels often enter properties through broken windows, gaps in construction, vents, and knotholes. They also can, or power destroys the wooden shingles and shakes. The squirrels can also cause damage to the wiring which can lead to various hazards.
This happens when they start chewing on the electrical wiring. This can be open wiring or the one that is inside the home. It can result in sparkling and fire hazards which can be hard to cope with.
Do GREY Squirrels Nest In Pine Trees?
Yes, indeed, the grey squirrels nest in pine trees. How do they do so? The female and male squirrels are good at gathering little twigs and branches by searching for them in the forest. They weave all of these wooden sticks together to build a nest through combined efforts.
Next, they start lining up their nest with green leaves so that it is soft for them to settle in during the night and winter. Often, the squirrels bring in pine needles, moss, grass, and big leaves. Gray squirrels are quick to develop their homes.
Why Do Squirrels Gather Pine Cones?
Squirrels have a habit of collecting pine cones as they do it for the intention of storing them. The squirrels do not hibernate in the winter season; rather, they collect cones to ensure their food stock remains intact. Pines are a good source of nutrition for these tailed rodents.
The pines are a means of sustaining the squirrels. Squirrels prefer collecting pine cones as they are easier to collect from the trees and ground areas. Moreover, pines can be stored relatively more easily than other food sources. Pines can be reserved for a long time, and squirrels can eat them whenever they want.
How To Stop Squirrels From Eating Pine Cones?
It is alright if the squirrels pick up pine cones from the ground but sometimes, it so happens that there are a lot of squirrels in an area, and each one of them is on the lookout for pine cones. In such a case, the squirrels cause harm to the pine trees too.
Here are a few suggested ways by which you can keep squirrels away from eating pine cones:
- Set up a perimeter around each tress and mark it with long metal pieces. Though the squirrels can jump up high, if you cover the trees to at least 5 feet, you are in the safe zone.
- Cut down the hanging branches to prevent the squirrels from jumping from one branch to another.
- Eliminate the pines that have dropped from the trees. This way, fewer squirrels will be attracted to the pine cone trees.
There are certain scents that can keep the squirrels away. You can sprinkle any one of them around the trunk of your pine trees:
- Garlic powder
- White pepper
- Predator Urine (for example, fox urine)
Squirrels love eating pine cones and are always on the lookout for them. They are perhaps the only creatures who can peel off the scales adeptly and feed on the seeds inside.
However, too many squirrels can become a nuisance for you, especially if you live in an area with a coniferous forest. You can adopt any of the earlier measures to keep the squirrels away. This way, you can avoid property damage.
Front. Ecol. Evol., 04 August 2020 Sec.Behavioral and Evolutionary Ecology