Squirrels are pretty good at remembering where they stores their stashes of food, but they're not perfect at it. Odd trees that seem to spring up from nowhere are often a result of a squirrel who once buried a seed and forgot all about it, and it's quite common. Red squirrels hoard their foods differently to grey squirrels. With the red ones, it's a pile of food, but with the grey ones, it's a burying situation, particularly with walnuts and acorns. That's why the trees sprout - they don't get the chance with the above-ground hoarding red squirrels. For the record, only between twenty and thirty percent of the squirrel's stash will ever be found, some of it being jumped on by other squirrels who have come across it by accident. These animals try to stash their food near landmarks, much in the same way os humans use landmarks and sign posts to mark where to find places and things. It might be under a big oak tree, for example, or next to a sycamore root. When it tries to find the food again, it simply looks for the ground that has been disturbed, as well as using it's great sense of smell to try and locate the nuts. They can sniff out food that has been buried beneath a layer of snow, and with a few digging attempts, they soon find what they were looking for.
Squirrels are smart animals and definitely remember where they kept their nuts. You can see them all over the place trying to burry some things. They are of course preparing for the future and that is what keeps them going when food gets scarce. Another thing that would make one realize that they do remember where they put their nuts is the fact that they use food traps.
These are meant to confuse their predators who would be looking forward to stealing their food. They try to lead them to the wrong direction so that they do not find the actual hiding area. It is not like they will go sniffing everywhere looking for where they stored their foods. They use some strategies to help them remember so that it becomes easier retrieve when time comes.
However it does not mean that they remember every place. Sometimes they could have hidden in so many places and can forget to remember several sites. At least they make trees grow in areas that no human being bothered to plant any. Their brain works like human brain whereby you do not remember every detail of where you kept your items.
Being a large forest they are also bound to forgetting therefore they use landmarks as a way of reviving their memory. In case they do not find those nuts the forest benefits. They can dig several places without finding the nuts they hide only to find the ones stashed for their predators. It means that in some circumstances they depend on luck.
How well they remember where they hide their food is also determined by how the animal choose the location. If it was chosen randomly chances of remembering are slim but if it was chosen because of a certain thing like how a tree looks like, they will remember. Other squirrels can identify the same place meaning when it comes to collecting those nuts, each will find something.
It might not necessarily be what they stored but since it is what they feed on they can take and let the other animal search the same place later when necessary. They mainly use sniffing strategy to find places where these nuts are stored. Since no animal marked their nuts they feed on what they find as a survival means. If a nut is not found by these animals new trees sprout from time to time.
There are other factors that will contribute to if the animal remembers or not. In case they have stored food only to come and pick it hours later it will be easy for the animal to remember but if it was stored a long time ago that could be hard. Think about it this way you also forget the specific place you kept your key and it is something you use on daily basis.
Smelling sometimes might not be enough. They will need to remember at least how the ground in that area felt. Research shows that most squirrels that use this technique do so when they want to steal. However if it is about getting her food they use a landmark that acts as a memory trigger. Also when you see them burying all over the place they might as well be creating a map of memory.
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