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Thread: Acorns

  1. #1
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    Default Acorns

    Ok, so I want to tackle the “acorn” controversy as applied to squirrels. Upon reading several articles posted, I have had to scratch my head quite a bit...however I am always willing to learn...so I’ve been doing research. Here is what I have found and I have added to it from personal experience. I can go back and site sources if needed.

    Here is how I’m going to start...there are over 31 species of Oak timber that produce acorns, that being given...multiple species absolutely depend on an acorn crop every year. The obvious are turkeys, various small birds, deer, bears, raccoons, wood rats, mice...and our friends “squirrels”. Other animals eat them but can have major problems...is it any shock that they are domesticated animals such as horses and cows? I have personally seen the effects of acorn impaction on horses...it is one of the worst things you have ever seen! A horse impacted on acorns develops a blood toxicity due to the impaction...it directly effects their brains and they begin to walk a tight circle and clip their heels when they walk. It’s such an absolute that anyone with prior knowledge to horses can see what is going on. Generally this leads to death of the horse...pretty much irreversible at the point of the walking the tight circles and clipping of the heels. So...horses...yeh, acorns are a no no...as with actually large quantities of oak leaves. Next is our most popular ruminant, cattle! Same sort of deal as with the horse...cattle gorging on acorns can get impacted to the point of bloating and twisting a gut. However...unlike the horse, cattle can be fed lime mixed in their feed over a period of time and eat all the acorns they want. Some breeds of cattle such as Longhorns and Pineys can handle acorn loads on their own because they are actually considered more foragers and can handle vegetation most cattle aren’t going to eat.

    I mentioned cattle as ruminants and having problems...but I also mentioned our “domesticated” animals. Deer, goats and sheep are ruminants but...their systems are different and can manage, handle and sustain on such a diet of a crop of acorns. Bears being omnivores eat pretty much anything they come in contact with and sustain exceptionally well on an acorn diet.

    I forgot to mention Native American Indians...studies show that Indians on the “Right Coast” ate a lot of acorns. Studies also show that the life span was only 30 years or so...now personally I think it was because of tooth problem due to grinding seeds and nuts in stones such as sandstone and flattening out their teeth to a point that it affected their lifespan. Not to mention the shrinkage of our appendix and spleen over evolution. We really don’t know what exactly those organs were for. Some scientists have come to the conclusion they were for primitive humanoids eating poisonous berries and nuts as a mainstay. Idk because that’s a study that can’t be proven but seems rational.

    Here is the interesting thing with squirrels, ground squirrels, mice and wood rats. There is actually a toxin in acorns called tannic, tanna or tannic acid. Tannic is actually used in curing leather oddly enough. In the 31 species of acorns...levels of tannic vary. Interestingly enough White oak species of acorns sprout in the fall while Red Oak species sprout the n the Spring. Tannic levels are highest in Red Oak species of acorns. According to the research I found, squirrels eat White oak acorns almost immediately when found and eat them to their entirety. Red Oak acorns seem to be stored as food stuffs for over Wintering. It has been determined that high levels of tannic cause a bitterness to acorns. Some studies suggest that squirrels only eat the top portion of red oak acorns leaving the embryo of the acorn (highest level of tannic). Studies also show that even when fed upon, the red oaks still have a chance to sprout.

    What does “tannic” do to squirrels? Actually I have read that if green acorns (highest level of tannic) are consumed by starving or hungry squirrels...it’s most likely to be like a person doing speed.

    I am still doing research trying to find out why acorns are considered bad for squirrels, but my conclusions based on what I have read and what I already know about nature have made my conclusion based on “I can’t find anything wrong with squirrels eating acorns”.

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  3. #2
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    Default Re: Acorns

    There has been several studies on this basis topic in tree squirrels; this is one of them.

    The effects of tannins and protein on food preference in Eastern Grey Squirrels

    Save you desire to investigate an aspect that hasn't been researched before, as you can see in reference section in this study are considerable,

    there would be no need.
    .
    Click on download to view pdf file.

    https://www.researchgate.net/profile...ication_detail

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  5. #3
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    Default Re: Acorns

    Good read, but it doesn’t really explain what I was getting at. I’m not arguing, it just doesn’t make sense to me that acorns are discouraged while all squirrels on this side of the country where we have oak trees...mainstay on acorns during Fall and Winter months. I think the article also said the same thing about varying levels of tannin. What I read was squirrels have the ability of adaption depending on region and species of Oak acorns.

    Personally I think the topic is well worth investigation and discussion.

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  7. #4
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    Default Re: Acorns

    Of course squirrels eat acorns. No doubt about it. During some seasons it’s their primary food source.
    I’m referring to wild squirrels surviving on nature’s bounty.

    I suspect that you have seen the warning on TSB about feeding acorns. The warning are for a different reason. The things we feed rehab/pet/captive squirrels have different considerations. The problem with acorns is due to their tendency to grow mold inside the casing. Some molds produce aflatoxins. If an acorn is growing an aflatoxin producing mold the results can be deadly. A captive squirrel will eat the acorn without any hesitation. Squirrels have died from fungal toxins in acorns. The inside of an acorn is moist and is a perfect environment for growing mold. That is especially true in hot climates like FL. We have acorns on the ground in November and the temperatures can still be in the high 80’s. An acorn shell is a perfect incubator for fungi. Moisture and warmth are perfect conditions. Of course not all acorns grow fungi and not all fungi produce aflatoxins. It is out of an abundance of caution that the warnings are in place.

    Another issue with acorns is the calcium to phosphorus ratio. The ratio is 1: 1.9 (Ca: P). If it had the opposite ratio it would be almost perfect. The desirable ratio of foods is 2:1 (Ca: P). The ratio for acorns is almost the same as almonds which are 1: 1.8. We limit high phosphate foods due to the potential of MBD. If you feed captive squirrels an abundance of acorns it could have the same effect as an abundance of nuts. Captive squirrels only eat what we give them and have no opportunity to balance their diet with native foods like the wilds.

    With that said, do I feed acorns? Yes, I do. ....WITH GREAT CAUTION. I have 2 flyers. They would rather eat an acorn than a nut. During the peak of acorn season, I will pick a few fresh acorns. I don’t store them. I cut them in half with a sharp knife. I examine every acorn they get. You would be surprised how many I find that are bad inside. They do get a single, carefully inspected acorn during acorn season. It is a choice I have made. In a perfect world my boys would have lived their lives in the trees. They did not get the chance to do that and I can never replicate their native diet or their natural environment. Giving them a few acorns is the only thing I can give them from their world. I have chosen to do that but it is a personal decision that we each must make for ourselves. I am fully aware of the issues and do my best to minimize the risk.

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  9. #5
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    SammysMom is offline Administrator, Conn. Licensed Wildlife Rehabilitator
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    Default Re: Acorns

    I think that the idea is that since we control their diet while they remain in our care, we err on caution. There have been cases of dying squirrels in rehab that trace back to aflotoxin. No need to risk it with those in care. We don't have any way of knowing if they die from it in the wild.
    Squirrels, squirrels and more squirrels....
    Prayers for the people who make this a better world...
    savesquirrels@sbcglobal.net



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  11. #6
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    Default Re: Acorns

    I can totally understand these reasonings and I appreciate the explanations! Thank you all!!

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  13. #7
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    Default Re: Acorns

    It's the moisture issue that occurs that promotes the grown of toxic fungus; yet in following online blogs to store shelled nuts in the freezer, that also can promote fungal growth when either the freezer going into a partial thaw cycle, or when they are thawed, that promotes fungal growth when spores are present. In nuts unshelled this can turn out to be the worst choice, for then there is no examination of the kernels upon opening, for the nuts are given whole to the squirrels to shell themselves.

    The key issue of death from alfatoxins has been associated with storing unshelled acorns in the freezer, which upon thawing promoted fungal growth that produces deadly alfatoxins.

    The safer protocoal is to shell all nuts, and process them as noted to do for storage in vacuum sealed bags in a cool dry place.
    This typically involves repeated soaking of acorns to reduce their higher tannin levels, drying and dehydrating the kernels to store more than 3 mo. for from there they will begin to degrade and become rancid, quicker if it is hot.

    Another key concern has been nut weevils, having laid their eggs in various nuts, including acorns, which when mature they bore their way out of the shell. This lets moisture and spores in as the fungus is generated from spores found in the air and soil. Wild squirrels that aren't under pressure of survival for lack of nuts will pass on those that are contaminated generally, yet in areas where the nut crop (mast) fails, squirrels having to travel farther generally to support their food supply.

    Since field observation research has shown that squirrels in the wild are choose about which nuts they accept, yet for other than the years when the acorn crop or other nut crops if the main source, fails, they tend to forage further out from their nest sites, that presents an increased risk to their survival. When this occurs, squirrels tend to not discriminate between the ok and best choices in support of their survival.

    With the diet of tree squirrels in captive needful to limit nuts, the squirrels may not discriminate as the wilds do, but consume less than optimum sources, even perhaps ones that have some fungus.

    It is up to the caregiver to make the call as to what they are fed, and whether to aim at minimizing the risk of toxin ingestion by either processing or eliminating acorns, that is a key healthy sources in the wild diet of tree squirrels.

    To make the choice even more difficult, a number of cases of squirrels that were given the choice of wild harvested foods in their captive diets having reached a greater age, it bears the question as to eliminating these otherwise healthy sources from their diets.

    I would encourage you do an advanced search and acorns and fungus, as there are a number of threads that have been posted on this topic that have gone into in-depth discussion of this same issue.

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