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Family Planning

Imagine a young, unmarried, childless female opening a bank account and depositing a large sum of money solely to pay for a child's education

  • Mark Cheater
  • Apr 01, 2001
Imagine a young, unmarried, childless female opening a bank account and depositing a large sum of money solely to pay for a child's education. An act of such foresight seems noble in people and beyond the ability of other animals. But Canadian researchers recently found that female red squirrels take similar steps routinely for their offspring.

Red squirrels inhabit coniferous forests throughout Canada and parts of the United States, where they feed on pine and spruce seeds. The squirrels create middens of cones and defend them from neighbors--as a larder to see them through the long winters.

Offered the opportunity, a female red squirrel will take over an extra, abandoned midden--as long as four months before mating--defend it and donate it to one of her offspring after weaning, according to Stan Boutin, a biologist at the University of Alberta-Edmonton. This gives some lucky youngsters a leg up on their peers, who otherwise must find and secure middens on their own.

"We felt this type of anticipatory parental care only happened in humans," says Boutin. "This is the first evidence that animals can do those things as well."

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bison herd walking in the snow