Squirrels can be real shysters

Published 12:14 am Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Squirrels – they are interesting, if not aggravating creatures. This morning I watched one scurrying around my front yard, nose buried in the leaves, fuzzy tail flipping back and forth in the breeze.

I admit I am not a big fan of the squirrel, mostly because when I plant something, every blessed one of them thinks I am secretly burying treasure for them to dig up. They also love taking just one big bite out of green tomatoes and then throwing them on the ground, which I do not appreciate.

Today as I observed the frantic rushing to and fro of the one in my yard, a strange thought popped itself into my head.

“Squirrels are the investment bankers of the animal world,” I said aloud, repeating the thought. “Wow, where did that come from?”

So I decided to see if there is research on squirrel behavior to back up my musing and, lo and behold, there kinda is. It seems scientists discovered that not only are squirrels not stupid but they also exhibit an ability toward deception — sounds a little like what I’ve hear about some investment banker types.

According to a story in The Seattle Times, “Sylvia Halkin, a professor of biology at Central Connecticut State University, studied deceptive behavior in squirrels, following up on a student’s observation that they sometimes buried an acorn then moved nearby and pretended to bury another acorn, behavior that might confuse another animal attempting to find the cache.”

The students gave peanuts to squirrels, kind of like folks give money to, well, investors, and then watched the animals bury the nuts. Then they proceeded to dig up the peanuts and what they discovered when they gave the animals more peanuts was that they buried a nut, then pretended to bury other nuts nearby. Or they dug many holes before burying a single nut in one of them. Or they might bury the nut under a bush where the researchers could not see it. Or the squirrel climbed a tree and put the nut in a nest.

Sounds to me like a first class attempt to hide assets from prying eyes.

Halkin said what surprised students was that they expected only one kind of deceptive behavior, but the squirrels demonstrated a whole bag of tricks to confuse creatures, human or otherwise, who might steal their stash.

I’m thinking folks who lost money they invested were equally surprised by the bag of deceptive tricks used by those who stole their stash.

As I thought about all of this, I noticed my little furry investment banker hardly ever raised his head, and when he did, he scanned the area making sure no other squirrel saw where he buried one of what I am sure are thousands of acorns lying under my oak trees.

I wondered if he noticed the beauty around him, the glorious new green on those oak tress, the sweet fragrance of the jasmine that is beginning to bloom. Nope, he seemed lost in his acorn hiding activities.

Now maybe I’m being unfair in my assessment of squirrels because I am coming from biased point of view based on my experiences with them messing with my gardening efforts. Perhaps, it is unkind of me to compare them to those who used deceptive tactics to take advantage of unsuspecting people.

Still, squirrel behavior might offer a lesson for those who choose to make the focus of their lives getting and hiding and hording. My own observation is that now and again my fuzzy friends get so caught up burying their stash, they fail to see danger lurking and become a tasty snack for my dog or my cat. That’s something any less-than-honest investors might want consider before they elect to adopt any deceptive, squirrel-like practices.