The Squirrel: Garden Menace, Military Strategist

We now know what we’ve suspected all along: We humans are no match for our garden foe, the squirrel.

The squirrel is wily, devious, clever and fast on its paws. This creature is also a master of deceptive tactics. The brainiacs at Georgia Institute of Technology made this discovery and are busy analyzing squirrels with the intent of using certain aspects of their behavior in the design of military robots. Good for them. It’s about time someone stopped throwing sticks and rocks at squirrels, shrieking and cursing at them, and devising ways to trap and kill them. Squirrels are finally getting the recognition and respect they deserve.

Professor Ronald Arkin and his team at Georgia Tech’s school of interactive computing identified particular squirrel behaviors that are singularly useful in the strategic art of deception. One of these behaviors involves the squirrel’s habit of hiding their nut supplies.

What do squirrels do to prevent other squirrels from stealing their nut stash? Well, according to Arkin, they dig a hundred little holes in your vegetable and flower garden to distract other squirrels from finding the real nut stash. You’ve seen those empty depressions in your yard next to the bulbs and seeds you planted, right? You know that squirrels watch you while you stand there and curse, don’t you?

Anyway, Arkin and his team decided to build this technique into their robot. They’ll create a ‘predator’ robot that will visit fake ammunition locations, thereby protecting the actual stores. Brilliant.

You think I'm hiding a nut here, don't you?

You think I’m hiding a nut here, don’t you?

The article I read didn’t mention other instances of borrowing squirrel behaviors in the design of their robots. So, I’ll provide a few others.

Driving Your Enemy Insane
Squirrels, of course, are the experts of this technique. If you have dogs (if you don’t, get some), you’ve most likely watched them race up and down the fence in your yard chasing a squirrel who seems to have unlimited energy and time to do the same. Or, you’ve seen the squirrels who manage to stay just out of jaw reach, chittering and chattering at the poor, stupid beast who keeps throwing itself at the tree trunk.

Yoohoo! Hey, there, you mangy cur!

Yoohoo! Hey, there, you mangy cur!

It’s a small leap from there to design a robot that races up and down the terrain while the enemy’s vehicles burn up a full tank of gas. Meanwhile, the real robot is somewhere else, blowing up their headquarters. But I guarantee you, the enemy’s soldiers, sitting in that vehicle, will have been driven insane long before then.

Stealth Nut Bombing
You’ve experienced this; I know you have. You’re walking along the sidewalk, minding your own business and, BAM! An acorn pierces your noggin. You look up and see nothing. Nothing.

Stop attributing the incident to gravity, folks. Don’t be so trusting. Somewhere in that tree you just passed under, perches a squirrel, camouflaged by the branches. And it knows exactly when to hurl the nut at your head.

Gravity? I spit on gravity!

Gravity? I spit on gravity!

So, think about it. Camouflaged robots, perched in trees… well, you know the rest. This military tactic is even more effective in that the offended troops will stand there, for a good 15-20 minutes trying to locate the robot/squirrel in the tree. They will be driven mad when they can’t find it.

Evasive Maneuvers
Nine times out of ten, a squirrel can safely make it to the other side of a heavily trafficked street. And this is in spite of the multiple changes in direction the creature makes—back and forth, darting, stopping, turning on a dime, and befuddling the driver. You, the driver, however, now has whiplash from repeatedly slamming on the brakes (You BETTER BE slamming on the brakes!) You’re cursing. All of the crap you’ve placed on the seat next to you has catapulted to the floor. Your latte now coats the inside of your gear box. You will arrive at work in a very cranky mood.

Your car got a boo boo. Boohoo.

Your car got a boo boo. Boohoo.

Now imagine the usefulness of this evasive maneuver on the battlefield. Picture their tanks or planes zigzagging wildly while our troop robot zigzags twice as fast in a completely random fashion. I’ll bet severe whiplash could get a soldier kicked out of combat. Hundreds of troops walking around in neck braces wouldn’t inspire confidence. The chiropractor bills alone would decimate a country’s defense budget.

This post is meant to be a lighthearted look at the strategy and tactics of war. Frankly, I’d much prefer that every country’s troops learn a different behavior from squirrels: The ability to play with each other in that jubilant, joyous way they do, with no one getting hurt, ever.

Play to live. Live to play.

Play to live. Live to play.

Squirrel photos: Courtesy of the talented photographers uploading to the free image library at

58 thoughts on “The Squirrel: Garden Menace, Military Strategist

  1. I do love squirrels, yes, I do. And this was a fascinating and entertaining read. The best part of all was that your descriptive powers reminded me of my all-time favorite squirrel cartoon. In it, a mama and baby squirrel are at the side of the road. Mama says to baby, “Now, don’t forget to run both ways!”

    There goes that latte into the gear box!

  2. You’re certainly quite the squirrel-o-logist in this delightful post about those wily bushy tailed varmints (to access my inner Yosemite Sam)! I hate rats but I love squirrels. Since I live in between Central Park and Riverside Park every so often a squirrel makes its way onto my block. I think they’re very cool little critters, but of course if I opened the door to my apartment and found one perched inside my usually opened window ready to bury an acorn in my bookshelf, I’d probably suffer an instant heart attack.

  3. This answers the question of why, why, WHY we have hundreds of little depressions all over our flower beds! I wondered why the squirrels did that.

    Also, because they’ve turned out to be such a gift to science and the military, I think someone should spend a little time studying how to alter power lines so the poor little things don’t get electrocuted so frequently while running along them. I happen to really like squirrels, and nothing’s sadder than seeing a perfectly formed dead one on the road while out for a jog.

  4. I used to feed the squirrels at an apt in which I lived.I got them comfortable enough to take peanuts from my hand at the porch table. Then they would come into the bed room, then hall, later to kitchen. They seem to have individual personalities. There was Sneaky who would dart in and out with a peanut. There was Fussy who would shake several peanuts before selecting. There was Grabby who would only take a peanut from a squirrel already holding one. Then there was Emily who seemed the alpha female or matriarch. They would all wait to let her get a peanut first and then proceed to get theirs.

  5. I’m an admitted squirrel lover, but YES they are crafty. While your post is already hilarious, how ’bout the special opps squirrels-able to get into any bird feeder on the market and make a quick get-away! They’re really good at attic entry as well;)

  6. Heh … your “Evasive Maneuvers” section actually happened to me on the way to work last week. I slammed on the breaks, all the items in my backseat fell onto the floor, and I STILL couldn’t stop in time to avoid killing the squirrel in the road.

    I can empathize with your. A squirrel (or possibly cat) has been digging holes in my garlic patch and yanking out the garlic cloves I planted. I sprinkled some strong-smelling spices around the patch this morning to drive away the culprit, and if that doesn’t work, I’m sprinkling cayenne pepper next.

    • Yes, try the cayenne pepper or moth balls. I’m sorry you’re having so much trouble, Ahab. But maybe the squirrels are doing you a favor and keeping you from getting garlic breath. And I am very sorry to hear that you accidentally killed the squirrel. You tried. It was his time, I guess.

  7. I had no idea you held such a grudge against those little bundles of fur. I love squirrels and never begrudged them taking a few seeds from the feeder, though we had damn few in the meadow. So far haven’t seen a single one. And squirrels forget where they hid most of the acorns and that is why trees proliferate! So they provide a most useful service too. But then since I’m not plagued with squirrels I can afford to be generous to them. I find it hard to dislike anything with fur. I’m even growing fond of tarantulas some.

  8. I thought they were cute until they moved into my attic and started chewing the place up and running relay races in the eaves in the mornings before my alarm clock went off. Now they are rats with bushy tails. (Why hasn’t anyone said, “I love squirrels – they taste like chicken,” yet)?

    • Hey – do you know how much exercise Carmella gets chasing them up and down your yard? Why, that pup would weigh twice as much if the squirrels weren’t there! (I’m never eating chicken at your house again, by the way.)

      • Yes I love the squirrels, almost as much as the dogs. Wait till you see Carmella when you get back. She definitely needs some squirrel chasing.

  9. ha! I remember, with my first house, an ongoing war with squirrels. First it was in the attic; yes…I had squirrels in the belfry! There was a hole under the eaves of that old money pit…and there was a whole ethnic group of those suckers up there. I trapped, relocated,trapped, relocated. After awhile I realized they were getting caught on purpose just to take the car ride. Assholes. Then they would dig up the tulip bulbs, eat a little, then try another bulb. I guess they kept thinking the next one would taste better. Then…they would attack the bird feeder. Once, in desperation, I greased the feeder pole with cayenne pepper. Days later I saw them bringing chips and dipping them in the greasy hot sauce I had concocted…..then I borrowed a German shepherd to scare them off. They taught the dog to play cribbage and beat him for his biscuits. I was thinking of thermo-nuclear weapons….but the city code forbid them. Finally I just put up a squirrel feeder, complete with beer and Cuban cigars It seemed to work….but one day they left a note demanding my first born and twenty pieces of silver. I moved.

  10. In an apartment I rented, a squirrel had made a home in a hole between floors. Bummed out the building owner (who eventually got pest control in), but I got to watch squirrel babies grow up and play on my balcony. I used to feed them all granola.

  11. Glad to see someone else shares my sense of pleasure watching squirrels do what they do. I have several families within my yard and neighboring yards and I simply refer to them all as Ethyl and Fred. I have been trimming back my post oak trees that have needed it so badly and the other day I seemed to get a mouthful from Fred (or Ethyl) chattering and running around at the top of one tree as to say in disgust, “What have you gone and done here? How now am I supposed to leap from one tree to the other to avoid your annoying mongrel dog”?

  12. I read somewhere that squirrels break mushrooms into pieces and leave them out to dry, then bury them for the winter. How do they know to do that? I love watching them chase each other up and down the trunks of trees. They never seem relaxed, though, and have a constant case of the jitters. I always imagine them sleeping with their eyes wide open. Imagine how smart they’d be if they could get a little rest once in a while. Maybe they could even help you get rid of the voles.

  13. Hilarious! And so timely. So far this week Molly the Mauler has almost dragged me in front of a car, just about broken my finger as I try to stop her from going the opposite way we need to go and get tangled in the leash, and attempting to dig up and relocate squirrel acorn stashes all over the backyard. I swear there’s one that waits right across from a busy intersection every morning chirping “come on across and get me” …and if I find who has tamed that one so that it actually charges demanding food, I will – I will – I will make them walk the dog!
    Great post!

  14. I love the way they lift their tails out of the way as they dash the last, few feet across the road. Pretty darn smart. Except when they’re almost all the way across and they panic, turn around and head back the way they came – right in front of your squealing front tires.

  15. Hi,
    They are just so cute and cunning of course. We don’t have squirrels in Oz but our possums are the equivalent also cute and cunning, and seem to be everywhere. :)

  16. Squirrel-like battle robots? The evolution? Either way the end is near…
    I see you are already preparing yourself with intel. Good decision, better be prepared.
    Squirrocalypse – a very furry end.

  17. They are truly evil. I’ve battled everything you’ve described here. From dog torture to acorn bombs. But I never knew about the endless hole digging. Here, I thought they were stupid because they couldn’t remember where they buried the nuts. Once again, squirrels have the last laugh.

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