Mushroom Jerky: How Red Squirrels Are Gourmet Cooks

For some people, squirrels are a wildlife novelty to coo over. For others, they’re a soul-crushing nuisance. For scientists? They’re a fascinating study on food preparation, storage, and consumption. Many squirrel varieties have incredible food hoarding habits, including- believe it- farming. For our purposes, we’ll be taking a look at the American Red Squirrel, and how it loves something most of its fellow Americans love, too: jerky.

But not just any jerky. Red squirrels are primarily omnivores (specifically, granivores) and you won’t find them chomping on the behind of some hapless cow anytime soon. Instead, red squirrels get more creative. Their habitat consists of the entire North American continent, which includes Canada, Alaska, and the Rocky Mountains. They can especially be found in the boreal forest biome, although have been seen as far away as Arizona.

Because of their preferred tree-dominated habitat, they have a unique access to an array of fungi species. Red squirrels will dine on most mushroom types, including ones that are deadly to humans. What’s more impressive than eating luxury truffle mushrooms? Making them into gourmet jerky.

American Red Squirrels have been seen taking mushrooms and storing them in places where they can be dried in the sun. Naturally, in-demand dehydration places include branches of trees, but red squirrels will take advantage of any secluded drying rack, including abandoned forest cabins. The mushrooms, when dried, last longer in the winter and also help prevent the squirrel larder from becoming infected with unwelcome insect larvae.

Some of these delectable bits of mushroom jerky include mushrooms that humans would have had to pay through the nose to be able to eat in a fine dining restaurant. American Red Squirrels have it figured out. When it comes to gourmet cooks in the wild, the red squirrel definitely takes home the all-American prize.