Hard Times in a Forest Near You

Candidate for wildlife weight loss program
Candidate for wildlife weight loss program

Poor fellow, you could almost hear him puffing with the labor of breathing with all that rodent body fat weighing down upon him–and worse by far than walking up a set of steps, his lifestyle requires the equivalent of rock climbing ten stories just to get home to his easy chair and a beer.

Without a doubt, this was one of the fattest (fox) squirrels I’ve ever seen (in Canyon Lake Park in Rapid City SD a few weeks back.) We were tempted to go over and give him a leg up.

Meanwhile, squirrels over a vast stretch of the east had better diversify if it was acorns they were expecting to nosh on for the coming cold months. Where have all the acorns gone?

(CNN) — Up and down the East Coast, residents and naturalists alike have been scratching their heads this autumn over a simple question: Where are all the acorns?

Some scientists fear a mysterious shortage of acorns this fall in the eastern U.S. will affect squirrels. Oak trees have shed their leaves, but the usual carpet of acorns is not crunching underfoot.In far-flung pockets of northern Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and other states, scientists have found no acorns whatsoever.

“I can’t think of any other year like this,” said Alonso Abugattas, director of the Long Branch Nature Center in Arlington, Virginia.

“I have lived in the area my entire life and have never not seen any acorns!” said one Arlington resident. She checked with some local plant nurseries and they confirmed her observation.

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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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  1. *hangs head in shame* – I never even noticed the lack of acorns this year until I read this. You’re right. Last year we were carpeted in them and this year there are hardly any.

  2. I was watching our bumper crop of squirrels all morning with the question running through my head of what were they going to eat. I thought our acorn shortage was a factor of Ike’s passage. I didn’t realize it was a problem elsewhere also…Looks like you can add my part of Texas to the list of states…

  3. I read the disappearing acorns article a few days ago and have been doubly wondering about it since: Not only about the lack of production farther east, but why some spots seem unaffected. (The oaks in my yard in Franklin County are dropping abundant acorns, for instance.) I have no idea what the difference might be.

  4. Interesting! Being a former Arlington resident, I vaguely remember ocasional years of scanty acorn crops. I also remember being absolutely overrun in our neighborhood with squirrels. Don’t think I would have missed a few less after a lean acorn winter.

  5. Here at home in eastern KY I’ve been blanketed with acorns this year. Last year, however, we didn’t have any. I think last year’s lack came from a freeze on the branches right around Easter and then a hard drought all summer and fall. This year we didn’t have a freeze, and had periodic rain (even though we were still in drought).

    I wonder if the cicadas have anything to do with the lack of acorns in other places. (Though, we had those in abundance this year, too.) Living under a couple 100 year old or so white oaks has really tuned me in to these acorn and cicada happenings.

  6. Southeastern PA swamped with acorns, one of the biggest harvests I’ve ever seen. No shortage of any kind of nut, so many walnuts you could barely walk near the trees.