When his little foot pushed that leaf down and he saw me, he froze! He truly was shocked and surprised to see me. He had been so intent on running up and down the branches knocking off the buckeyes he wasn't paying attention to what was on the other side of the leaves.
In a flash he was gone...turning and running up that branch where he looked at me from a safe distance.
I stayed around to watch what he was doing. He would run to the end of the branch and knock off a buckeye. He wasn't gathering the seeds because they were still encased in the husks, which hadn't even started to ripen and split. Instead, he would hang there at the end of the branch and gnaw on the part of the twig where the buckeye had been. What? I had no idea what that was about, so when I got home I did a little research. I found buckeyes are poisonous to most animals, but squirrels can eat them. They don't particularly like them, but they will do in a pinch. I also found many references to squirrels eating the pith from terminal twigs, and one direct account of Fox squirrels in Illinois eating the pith of Buckeyes (Havera, Stephen. 1976. The American Midland Naturalist, 95(2):462-464). Yeah! Maybe that's what my little squirrel was doing. From the USDA Forest Service of the Northeastern Area:
"Buckeye pith contains 66 percent raffinose, a sweet-tasting 18-carbon sugar that is much sweeter and contains potentially more energy than sucrose." I'd go for sweet sugar over a bitter seed any time! If you're wondering what pith is, it's,"the soft, spongy, innermost tissue in a stem" -- as defined in my "National Audubon Society Field Guide to Trees," Eastern Region.
The Ohio Buckeye (Aesculus glabra) -- Ohio's state tree
My cousin, Mary Ann (the one from California--I have three!), just sent me a link to "The Cheeky Squirrel Photo Crasher." Click here...it's pretty cute!