By Wendy Langhans
Some people collect coins or stamps, my mother collected empty Maxwell House Instant Coffee jars. These were just the right size for a family-size meal of vegetable stew, part of her summertime ritual of “putting food by” for the winter.
It began with a quick visit to her favorite farmer’s roadside stand. She came home laden with boxes of cabbages, potatoes, celery, onions and carrots. The next morning, before it got too hot, she chopped, sliced and diced the vegetables, simmering them in large pots. After the right amount of cooking time, she ladled the vegetable stew into her empty coffee jars. Later, when the jars cooled, she carefully stacked them side by side in the basement freezer.
But humans are not the only animal that “puts food by” for the winter. Many mammals and some birds and insects also store food for later consumption. Animal behaviorists refer to this behavior as “hoarding or caching”. They have identified two main types: larder-hoarding and scatter-hoarding.
Larder-hoarding occurs when the food is stored on one location; this is the animal equivalent of “putting all your eggs in one basket” (or one basement freezer). When a honey bee stores pollen and honey it’s hive, this is an example larder-hoarding. Another example are granary trees, created by Acorn woodpeckers who drill holes in dead trees which they later fill with acorns.
A granary tree is an example of a larder-hoard.
Scatter-hoarding occurs when the food is stored in many diverse site throughout the animal’s home territory. Grey squirrels, for example, bury their nuts and seeds in many different locations. And in the Sierra Nevada mountains, Stellar Jay’s also cache pine seeds in the ground or in trees.
A Stellar Jay is a scatter-hoarder.
There are advantages and disadvantages to each type of hoarding. Larder-hoards must be defended against theft; scatter-hoards not as much. But the scatter-hoarders have a problem the larder-hoarders do not – to remember exactly where those many caches were located.
My mother’s freezer full of vegetable stew was an example of a larder-hoard. At least every other week during the winter, she would take a jar of vegetable stew out of the freezer, thaw it, add a piece of meat and cook it up in the pressure cooker. That stew, along with freshly baked bread, made a tasty dinner for our family.
But her daughter, who forgot to buy milk yesterday, sometimes has to rely on scatter-hoards – like an early morning trip to the local grocery store.
Upcoming Outdoor Events:
Saturday, December 19, 8-10 a.m. Bird Walk at Towsley Canyon. It takes some unique birds to stick around in our winters. Meet at the front entrance to the park. Beginners are welcome. For map, click here.
Sunday, December 27, 1-3 p.m. Take a look at Mentryville’s Past. Come share a bit of California history with your out-of-town guests as we explore historic Mentryville. Meet at the first parking lot after the entrance to Pico Canyon. For a map, click here.
You can listen to stories like this every Friday morning at 7:10 a.m. on “The Hike Report”, brought to you by your hometown radio station KHTS (AM1220) and by the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority.