Acorns, the large, nut-like seeds produced by oak trees, are a food source for a wide range of animal species. Acorns are generally split into two categories: white oak and red oak. White oak acorns are generally more palatable to animals than red oak acorns, because they contain fewer tannins, which give acorns their bitter flavor. However, many species will eat both varieties.
Some insect species eat acorns, including both the long-snouted and short-snouted acorn weevil. The long-snouted weevil drills holes in the acorn to eat the flesh and lay its eggs in the hole. The larvae, in turn, feed on acorns as they grow. Once vacant, acorn moths use these same holes to lay their eggs, which produce caterpillars that also feed on the acorns.
Many species of birds consume acorns, both those still growing in trees and those that have fallen to the ground. These bird species include wild turkeys, woodpeckers, bobwhite quail, mallards, wood ducks, crows and jays. The acorn woodpecker eats acorns almost exclusively and tends to thrive in areas where two or more species of oak trees grow.
Although the common tree squirrel has a well-known affinity for acorns, it's far from the only species of small mammal to take advantage of the acorn's abundance. Others include fox squirrels, flying squirrels, rabbits, mice, voles, raccoons and opossums. These animals generally scavenge ripe acorns that have fallen to the ground.
Many large mammals scavenge and eat acorns, too. These include wild hogs, white-tailed deer and both red and gray foxes. It also includes humans. Many native tribes throughout history have eaten acorns, and even today some people process acorns and grind them into flour or paste for use in various recipes. Acorns must first be prepared for human consumption, a process that includes shelling them and soaking them for a long time to leach out the bitter tannins and make them edible.
- HastingsReserve.com: Acorns? Are There Enough?
- USDA Plant Fact Sheet: White Oak [PDF]
- Hunter Angler Gardener Cook: Acorn Pasta and the Mechanics of Eating Acorns
- Eat the Weeds: Acorn Grubs: Bait, Trailside Nibble
- University of Connecticut Home and Garden Education Center: Too Many Acorns? (and a Bit About Woolly Bears Too)
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