We all know that squirrels are smart and social little creatures. They can figure out how to get into your birdfeeder or steal your food from under your nose, and bury food for later.
And if social creatures have death rituals, could this mean squirrels bury their dead?
As much as it would make sense for squirrels to bury their dead, they do not. Unlike chimpanzees and elephants, the only two animals to bury their dead, squirrels just leave theirs.
This isn’t to say that dead squirrels haven’t been buried, they just haven’t been buried by other squirrels.
What Do Squirrels Do With Their Dead?
You might think that because squirrels have burying habits already and they are extremely social creatures they might do at least something with their dead, but that isn’t the case. Squirrels leave their dead alone.
When a squirrel dies outside of the nest, chances are an animal, bird, or insect will eat their remains.
If a squirrel dies inside of the nest, they stay in there and decompose normally.
Squirrels don’t seem to mind too much about touching their deceased ancestors either. The bodies act as insulation inside the nest, making the home a little cozier.
Do Squirrels Eat Their Dead?
Squirrels are omnivores, and those cute bright-eyed, bushy-tailed critters will eat the remains of other squirrels.
Yes, that’s right. Squirrels will do anything necessary to survive as prey, and since they’re omnivores, they will eat whatever they can get their hands on.
Eating the remains of other squirrels will also reduce the risk of larger animals coming around to do the same thing.
By keeping larger predators away, squirrels end up staying safer. A full stomach and staying safe is a win-win scenario for the squirrels.
Before you worry about squirrels being crazy meat-eaters, I should mention that squirrels will only eat dead squirrels if there is nothing better to eat.
The meats they typically eat are bugs and insects, and it is fairly uncommon for a squirrel to exhibit cannibalistic characteristics.
Do Squirrels Bury Anything?
Squirrels are known for burying food. They’re the reason we use the term “squirreling away” to mean that someone is placing something important in a secret spot for future use.
Squirrels will bury anything from acorns and pecans to seeds, nuts, and berries in different locations. During cold months, squirrels will go back to their stockpiles to find food instead of having to search for new food sources.
They also squirrel away food to keep it from other animals. By burying food, they are making it more difficult for other animals to find the food, or dig the food up by covering up the smell.
In typical squirrelly fashion, squirrels do sometimes forget where they’ve hidden some of their stockpiles. They only forget about 10% of their hidden caches, which is less often than I lose things!
Do Any Animals Bury Their Dead?
Some animals bury their dead! Chimpanzees, elephants, and magpies are the only other species known to bury their dead.
Notice how all of them are known for being smart with complex emotions?
These burials don’t look much like a human burial. They won’t bury their dead in the earth, but instead, they bury their dead under branches, leaves, or anything else they can pile on top of the body.
Ants and termites will also bury their dead as a way to “take out the trash”. They’ll create separate chambers in their tunnels where they bring their dead.
Once that room is full, they allow the tunnel leading up to it to collapse, essentially creating a mass burial.
A few dogs have also buried their dead, but they don’t quite make this list. Scientists think that they aren’t performing a death ritual, but are instead following their instincts to bury food for later.
Have Squirrels Been Found Buried?
Squirrels won’t bury their dead, but that doesn’t mean you won’t find one buried in your garden. There are other animals who bury dead squirrels so that can come back and find them again later when they are hungry.
Cats and foxes will both bury squirrels or birds, or mice to save them for later. Both of these predators are fairly small and are prey to larger animals.
By burying dead squirrels, they are not only saving food for later, but they are also preventing larger predators from coming to the area.
What To Do If You Find a Buried Squirrel
There are a couple of things you can do if you find a dead buried dead squirrel. You can leave it, or you can remove it.
There are benefits to both choices, but you should leave the squirrel if:
- you want to fertilize the garden
- you don’t have pets or children that could dig it up
- you don’t live in an area that would attract large predators
You should remove the squirrel using gloves and a shovel if:
- you live in a rural area where coyotes, cougars, or bears would be drawn towards your house
- You have children or pets that play in the backyard
- the mound where the squirrel was buried is unsightly or making your lawn uneven
So, no, squirrels don’t bury their dead. In fact, they don’t do anything with their dead. Nature takes care of dead squirrels pretty quickly so squirrels don’t need to do anything.
There are animals, like foxes and cats, that bury squirrels to have as a meal later. If you ever stumble upon a squirrel hidden under the mulch of your garden, just know that you’ve found a midnight snack!