Science

Acorny Post

All over the country, oak trees have shed their leaves, but there are very few acorns to be found underfoot, as is usual for this time of year. In parts of northern Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and other states, scientists have found no acorns whatsoever.

And the seemingly low acorn output has some people worried.

Kate McNamee, who runs a Washington-area, volunteer tree-planting project called “Growing Native,” says:

“Last year we collected 25,000 pounds of seeds, most from a bumper crop of acorns,” said McNamee. “This year we only collected 10,000 pounds, and 90 percent of that was walnuts.”

Some scientists point to various natural phenomena to explain the lack of acorns found this year. But others point to the number of happy and enormously fat squirrels waddling around as the cause.sq4

According to the AMA, instances of obesity in squirrels has risen sharply in the last month, causing some to speculate that squirrels are really ramping up on acorn collection and consumption.

Unfortunately, squirrels are remaining tight-lipped about their involvement. When asked if he knew anything about the acorn shortage, one obese squirrel simply put a finger to his lips and winked. He then belched, and rolled over on his side and fell asleep.

Meanwhile, to combat the rise in overweight squirrels, doctors are urging habitrails and hamster exercise wheels all over the country to offer reduced rates to those squirrels that can barely climb their own trees anymore. And area church congregations are praying for a very long winter, which would allow the furry little guys time to burn off all the extra pounds.

In another odd turn of events, several squirrels in Central Park West were seen constructing elaborate security systems around their upscale squirrel holes, while many squirrels in West Virginia were seen sitting in lawn chairs in front of their double-wide squirrel holes with shotguns in their laps, leading many to speculate that the squirrels had a little something extra to protect.

When interviewed, one Miami squirrel said cryptically, “First you get dee nuts. Den you get dee power. Den you get dee women.”

He then disappeared into his squirrel hole. sg

Around the same time, groups of Skepchick readers became giddy thinking about all the jokes they were going to make in the Comments about “squirrel holes”.

It’s still unknown if any of the unusual squirrel behavior has anything to do with the acorn shortage. Some people speculate that squirrels are only part of the problem. They say the recent chestnut shipments seized by pirates in the Straits of Somalia has lead chestnut roasters to improvise and use other available nuts, thereby helping to deplete the acorn reserve.

Skepchick was unable to get a single chestnut roaster to comment on the allegations, so this charge has yet to be confirmed. But it’s probably a good idea to be cautious of your nuts this holiday season. It just makes good nut sense.chestnutroaster

In the meantime, experts do indeed have theories to explain the acorn problem. Virginia extension agent Adam Downing says acorn production runs in cycles. And apparently last year was a bumper acorn crop. He says a lean year is not unusual following a banner year.

“It fits with the physiology of seed reproduction. The trees are exhausted, energy wise, from last year,” he said.

And as we all know, tired trees are no fun at all. All they do is stand there. They don’t participate, and even a loyal arborphile is forced to seek companionship elsewhere. And often, it’s the little seedlings that end up suffering. It’s sad, but it happens.

But the serious part of this nuttiness is, scientists say squirrels could actually suffer from an acorn shortage, along with the oak tree population in the long run.

The good news is, there is no need to panic just yet. The shortage has not risen to crisis level. Scientists know, however, that it is important to watch the situation closely. If the shortage continues for several years, the issue will have to be addressed more fully.

Sam Ogden

Sam Ogden is a writer, beach bum, and songwriter living in Houston, Texas, but he may be found scratching himself at many points across the globe. Follow him on Twitter @SamOgden

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25 Comments

  1. After months of effort,

    I’ve finally got normal birds (i.e. not pigeons) in by back yard and, at long last, not one but two, count ’em two, squirrels.

    I really like watching them, in the morning (and listening to actual birds chirping).

    After hearing about this conspiracy, I’m glad I was always so nice to them. I hope that they remember that, when the squirrels finally decide to revolt.

    rod

  2. We have squirrels galore in our neighborhood and there are very few native Oak trees in these parts. We have an interesting assortment of grey, black and red squirrels that seem to come and go in waves. What really gets us excited to see in our yard is the very occasional chipmunk. I have a couple of grape arbors and the squirrels have an amazing ability to know when the grapes are just about ripe. Its at that point they have their annual grape fest and bacchanal while I’m at work. Damn rodents!

  3. “…many squirrels in West Virginia were seen sitting in lawn chairs in front of their double-wide squirrel holes with shotguns in their laps…”

    Damn! I reported that! But they forgot to mention the that we keep hearing the music from “Deliverance,” though…!

  4. @Gabrielbrawley: Then again nearly every recent case of the plague in North America can be traced to the preparation and consumption of rodents. There have also been some very bazaar incidents of brain neural protean disorders similar to Mad Cow disease linked to squirrel brain consumption. I think I’ll stick to duck or a rib roast. Thanks for the hunting tips though!

  5. This is from my recollection from reading some articles that perked my interest so understand that caveat. My recollection is that it mostly involved rabbits and I would suspect it would be bubonic because I also seem to recall pneumonic is generally spread by an airborne virus that settles in the lugs. The mad squirrel thing was a more recent article and involved some hill folk in some southern state who ate large quantities of squirrel including the brains.

  6. James Fox
    Gabrielbrawley: both pneumonic and bubonic plague are caused by the same bacteria, Yersinia pestis. The form it takes depends on whether it infects the lungs or lymph system. It can also cause septicemic plague if it infects the blood stream.

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