It can take years for a pinecone to break away and thump to the ground. And when it finally does: it’s fair game for eating!
While many animals must wait for nature to help open the pinecone, squirrels, with their elodont incisors, (ever-growing teeth) can dig right in.
So why are we being told NOT to feed squirrels packaged pine nuts? Because it’s true.
Read on as we shed light and clarify the mixed messages.
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- Can Squirrels Eat Pine Nuts?
Can Squirrels Eat Pine Nuts?
Yes. Raw Pine Nuts straight out of pine cones, are a natural part of a wild squirrel’s diet. However, packaged pine nuts could be very unhealthy for squirrels, especially pet squirrels and those in temporary captivity.
Squirrels do eat pine nuts out of pinecones. That includes wild tree squirrels, which are the biggest pine nut eaters, followed by ground squirrels and flying squirrels.
They will use their teeth to peel away the prickly scales of pinecones in order to enjoy the treasured pine nut (video coming up).
In doing so, they absorb all the micro nutrients that are stored in the pinecone. Nutrients that are no where to be found in packaged pine nuts.
Which leads us to nutrition…
Are pine nuts good for squirrels?
When a wild squirrel tears apart fallen pinecones for the nut, those pine nuts are good for the squirrel. But as you can see from the pie chart above, bagged pine nuts are not so healthy for our squirrel friends.
Nutrients in Pinecones
Plenty of survival guides boast that pinecones could be eaten as a source of fiber and vitamin C if necessary. Squirrels need Vitamin C
Even though a squirrel spits out the cone as she tries to get to the pine nuts, she will likely absorb Vitamin C, and friendly amino acids and terpenes the entire time.
The nutrients she gets from this action are simply not present in store bought pine nuts.
Additionally, the pine cone helps maintain her teeth, whereas dried, packaged pine nuts are rather soft and offer no help at all.
Will squirrels eat pine nuts from the store?
They sure will! Squirrels will go nuts for pine nuts from the store, but the squirrel may become sick if they are fed store-bought pine nuts on a regular basis.
So even though pine nuts are a food favorite for squirrels we rarely offered them.
3 Reasons Why Pine Nuts from a Bag are Not Good for Squirrels
When it comes to feeding squirrels dried pine nuts bought from the store it’s best to resist the urge. Here are 3 good reasons to pick something else:
- Dangerous Calcium to Phosphorus Ratio
- Quick to turn Rancid
- Too Soft to Maintain Teeth
For their entire lives, wild squirrels need calcium and all squirrels are highly susceptible to diseases that stem from foods with poor calcium/phosphorous ratios.
Oils go Bad
In addition, pine nuts are loaded with natural oils and we all know by now that it doesn’t take long for oils to expire.
Feeding expired nuts could do far more harm than good. Many studies have shown that free radicals that deplete the body of nutrients, are abundant in nuts that have gone bad (1).
Pine Nuts vs. Piñon Nuts for Squirrels: Any Difference?
Most packaged pine nuts are light, creamy tan in color and come from multiple pine species. Authentic Piñon nuts are dark and come from the pine tree species: Pinus edulis.
Also, piñon nuts are scarce and expensive, whereas regular pine nuts are rather abundant and cost much less.
Here is a side by side graph comparison of a pine nut vs. a piñon nut:
As for nutrition, there is a big difference when it comes to meeting squirrel diet needs.
While both would be unsuitable as normal squirrel feed, Piñon nuts would be much healthier.
Gray Squirrel Eating Pine Nuts and Making a Mess
Here is a great video that someone captured. It captures the process of squirrels biting the nubs off of pine nuts. But first, they have to tear up the pinecone.
As you can see, it’s a lot of work, and it makes a bit of a mess.
Keep in mind, there are so many nutrients in that pinecone that are transferring to the squirrel as she chews.
When a wild squirrel eats through pinecones to get to the raw pine nut, it is natural and healthy.
But packaged and store bought pine nuts are not the same. Feeding them to squirrels could cause problems, especially true for pet and captive squirrels who depend on humans to deliver a balanced diet.
While a pine nut or two wouldn’t make or break a healthy squirrel, you never know what else the squirrels are being fed.
That said, opt for healthier treats that are better balanced than dried pine nuts.