German Chancellor Angela Merkel shares a compulsion with rodents and birds. She is a self-proclaimed hoarder.

Like those animals, she behaves instinctively. She explains: “This inclination to hoard is deeply ingrained in me because in the past, in times of scarcity, you took what you could get.”

Scarcity of food can be a problem for people and animals. Cue to the plug for donations to the local food pantries.

Animals don’t have a safety net and have limited food availability once the season changes. Fall and winter bring challenges of food acquisition that result from a decline of insects, the freezing of the ground, an end to fresh green plants, and other winter realities.

Behavioral adaptations have made it possible for animals that don’t hibernate or migrate to survive the season of scarcity.

Certain rodents and birds are known for their hoarding habits. They collect and create a cache of stored food to get them through the winter. Caches can be buried in the ground, stored in animal nests or dens, or even pressed into or under the bark of trees.

Squirrels are famous hoarders, collecting acorns and stashing them about for a later meal. Their modus operandi, called scatter hoarding, consists of burying nuts in ones or twos in the ground about a half to two inches below the surface.

They scatter their food in multiple caches in the same area in the hopes that some of their stash won’t be found and consumed by mice or other hungry beasts.  Squirrels will also dig fake holes to deceive would-be wildlife thieves.

Their food storage work takes time and energy, since each squirrel can bury thousands of caches per year. Though they sometimes do forget where they buried those acorns, research has shown that 40 to 80 per cent of acorns are recovered by the squirrel that buried them. This could be thanks to their strong sense of smell and detailed spacial memory. And squirrels are selective about what acorns they bury since they shake them first to see if they have weevils, then eat the insect-infected acorns on the spot, and cache the weevil-less ones.

The other type of hoarder is the larder hoarder. Animals in this category have one large food storage area, often as part of their nest or den. Moles and shrews are larder hoarders and have behaviors that might put them in the category of war criminals. They injure, torture and hold captive their prey. Earthworms are their food stuff, and since these animals need to consume almost their body weight in worms per day, moles and shrews require a large larder. In one extreme case of hoarding, a cache contained over 1,200 earthworms.

First, though, moles and shrews must capture their earthworm prey and bring them to their burrow. Then they chomp off the head of the worm (in the case of the mole) or bite and paralyze the worm with toxic saliva (in the case of the shrew). Even with this torment, the worms remain alive and are held in dungeon-like chambers, called fortresses, below the mole and shrew tunnels. If the worms wake up from their immobile state, another bite is given to extend the paralysis. These methods don’t always kill the earthworms. A lucky few will survive till spring and writhe out of the fortresses, grow another head segment and go along their way.

Clearly there are winners (animals that find those caches and the plants that grow from buried seeds) and losers (headless annelids) in the hoarding game. But no matter the benefit or detriment, animals and people will continue to collect and amass what they think they need to survive.

Suzan Bellincampi is director of the Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary in Edgartown, and author of Martha’s Vineyard: A Field Guide to Island Nature and The Nature of Martha’s Vineyard.