Losing One’s Head Over Food Storage


Food storage is one of those beloved, evergreen topics that readers can’t seem to get enough of. Who can resist a rousing piece about Saran Wrap, tin foil or Tupperware? It’s clickbait, like a story on Chrissy Teigen’s flossing routine.

But National Geographic has outdone itself with an article about how animals store food for the winter, which often seems to involve biting the heads off the unfortunate food source.

Author Liz Langley reports that this is a tried-and-true technique among moles, although I don’t remember coming across it in The Wind in the Willows. “Moles store live earthworms underground by biting into their heads causing a mutilating injury,” we learn, “which makes them unable to escape.” Gruesome, sure, but there’s a happy ending: “some worms may eventually regrow their heads and tunnel their way to freedom.”

I think we understand now why Mole enjoyed hanging out at Badger’s, where they feasted on apples, turnips, onions, and Buffalo wings, instead of half-dead headless worms.

Shrews also like to keep their food alive so it doesn’t go bad. When they bite into insect larvae, their toxic saliva renders them both comatose and oh-so-snackable. They are brought into the shrew’s nest for future consumption, saved from spoiling by their living death. Nice!

Fire ants make jerky out of which is prey, an excellent source of protein for ants who are trying to low-carb it. Teriyaki flavored? Langley doesn’t say.

In the winter, honey ants store honey in ants that turn into “living storage kegs and hang from the ceiling.” That sounds like a technique that might work at a sports bar, with patrons instead of ants, and beer instead of honey. Lots of men would sign up to be living storage kegs, as long as they could still watch the game.

So clearly, the food storage habits of creatures that live underground are disgusting. How about those that live by the sea?

The fiddler crab, which cannot, by the way, play the fiddle, stores algae and other food in its burrow in anticipation of tough times ahead. This is according to Rutgers University marine biologist Judith Weis, who is the author of Walking Sideways: The Remarkable World of Crabs. If walking sideways is the most remarkable thing fiddler crabs do, big deal. Playing first violin at the New York Philharmonic, that would be remarkable.

Finally, Langley lets us know that red squirrels not only store nuts, but mushrooms that they dry out and store in trees. As winter progresses, they’ll use them to make a nice cream sauce for pine cones.

These animals are no weirder than we are in our own efforts to store food. We actually “burp” Tupperware, how gross is that?

I personally have not bit into any animals to paralyze them for later noshing, but I did bite my brother Chris once for taking one of my favorite Hot Wheels. He tasted like chicken.

Illustration by Isabella Bannerman

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6 thoughts on “Losing One’s Head Over Food Storage”

  1. I would pay not to read about Chrissie Teigen’s flossing routine. A lot. Loved the line about biting off heads. (And I loved the cartoon too of course. I’m a big fan of Isabella’s work.)

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