The Human Side of Animals: Chapter 11 - Food Conservers by@royaldixon

The Human Side of Animals: Chapter 11 - Food Conservers

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Royal Dixon

The Human Side of Animals

The Human Side of Animals by Royal Dixon is part of HackerNoon’s Book Blog Post series. You can jump to any chapter in this book here: [LINK TO TABLE OF LINK]. Chapter XI - Food Conservers


"He prayeth well who loveth well
Both man and bird and beast.
He prayeth best who loveth best
All things both great and small;
For the dear God who loveth us,
He made and loveth all."


It can almost be said that there is no industry or profession of the human world that is not carried on with equal skill in the animal world. This is especially true of merchandising and store-keeping; animals, however, have different methods of merchandising than men, although these methods are none the less real. They give and take instead of buy and sell and have co-operative shops which they operate with great success. They unite for a desired end, and demonstrate their ability to work together in a common enterprise in a way that might teach man a good lesson.

Food and shelter are the first needs of animals. In order to obtain these, they group themselves into foraging parties in the most ingenious manner. Like mankind, they sometimes co-operate for dishonest ends; they form "trusts" and organise into gangs for purposes of mutual aid.

Deer, monkeys, rabbits, foxes, and numerous others conduct their dining-rooms on a co-operative principle. Some watch and wait while others dine. The same is true where they go to watering places to drink and bathe.

Perhaps the most unique and clever food conserver is the American polecat. He not only provides for himself, but prepares a larder for his young, so that they will have plenty of food. The nursery is usually comfortably embedded in a cave, and is lined with soft, dry grass. Adjoining this nursery is a larder, which often contains from ten to fifty large frogs and toads, all alive, but so dexterously bitten through the brain as to make them incapable of escaping. Mr. and Mrs. Pole-cat can then visit or hunt as they please, so long as their children have plenty of fresh meat at home!

Another interesting food conserver is the chipping squirrel, or chipmunk, so named because his cry sounds like the chirp of little chickens. His method of dress is most unusual; he is brownish grey in colour, with five stripes of black and two of pale yellow running along the back of his coat; the throat and lower part of his body is snowy white. These colours occasionally vary, when the grey and yellow are superseded by black.

His home is underground, usually under an old wall, near a rock fence, or under a tree; his burrow is so long and winding that he can easily escape almost any enemy, except the weasel, which is not easily outwitted. His nursery and living-room is quite pretentious, but his lateral storeroom is a marvel! He is a miser indeed, and stores up every acorn and nut he can find, even many times more than he can ever eat. His variety of food is almost unending—he loves buckwheat, beaked nuts, pecans, various kinds of grass seeds, and Indian corn. In carrying food to his home he first fills his pouches to overflowing and then takes another nut in his mouth; he thus reminds the classical reader of Alemæon in the treasury of Crœsus.

The hedgehog is a regular Solomon in her methods of collecting fruit. Plutarch had a very high opinion of her. He says that when grapes are ripe, the mother hedgehog goes under the vines and shakes them until some of the grapes fall; she then literally rolls over them until many are attached to her spines, and marches back to her babies in the cave. "One day," says Plutarch, "when we were all together, we had the chance of seeing this with our own eyes—it looked as if a bunch of grapes was shuffling along the ground, so thickly covered was the animal with its booty."


American Museum of Natural History, New York


American Museum of Natural History, New York


Alpine mice not only form comfortable winter homes in the earth, but combine into small winter colonies, each colony numbering about ten to twelve inhabitants, all of whom are under the direction of a leader. Thus organised, they proceed to lay up provisions for the winter. They use their mouths as scythes and their paws as rotary machines. Surely their wisdom and foresight call forth our greatest admiration. The jerboas or jumping mice are not only skilled athletes in the art of jumping, but they are gifted food conservers and producers as well. They lay up complete storehouses of food, which they do not consume altogether as their appetite may direct; but conserve it carefully for the times when nothing can be obtained from the fields. Then, and then only, do they open the closed magazines. Such acts of intelligence cannot be recorded under the head of "instinct"! They demonstrate the ability to plan for the future, and meet all emergencies.

Certain food hoarders and robbers, like the vole, are so very greedy and become such misers that they often threaten total destruction to large areas of grain. They were so plentiful in the classic land of Thessaly, the vale of Tempe, and the Land of Olympus that the old Greeks established what they called an Apollo Smintheus, the Mouse-destroying God. In the early spring, according to Professor Loeffler, who has made a special study of their invasions, they begin to come down from their homes in the hills to the cultivated fields. They seem to follow regular roads, and often travel along the railroad embankment. They travel very slowly, and when at home live somewhat on the order of prairie dogs, that is, in underground dwellings with numerous winding passages and tunnels.

These wise little food conservers are nocturnal in habit, and are rarely seen except by careful observers. When they once determine to rob a field, they do it with amazing rapidity and completeness. In a single night hordes of these workers go into a cornfield and by daylight not a stalk of corn remains. The field is as empty as if a cyclone had struck it. They work with great system, and while a part of their number cut the stalks down, others cut it up into movable sizes, while still others superintend its systematic removal. Storehouses are usually provided before the grain is even cut. They make long voyages throughout a country, storing away tons of grain and food in these various granaries. To these they come for supplies whenever necessary. All poverty-stricken voles are also fed from these storehouses, since it is the product of the community as a whole. Aristotle wrote at length about their wise and destructive ways.

Not the least ingenious of food conservers are the hamsters, members of the great rodent family. They have made their dwellings most comfortable and even luxurious in arrangement and furnishings. Like wealthy farmers, they are not satisfied with comfortable dwellings only, but they too must have spacious barns adjoining their homes. Their home, or burrow proper, consists of two openings: one, which is used as an entrance, and which sinks vertically into the ground; the other, which is used as an exit, with a winding slope. The central room is beautifully carpeted with straw, moss, and dry leaves, which makes it a very pleasant living-room and bedroom. A third small winding tunnel leads from this room to the barns and storehouse. Thus, Mr. and Mrs. Hamster and the children have no need to go forth in the cold and wet weather to seek food—they can remain at home perfectly protected and well-fed. They are very liberal, and in case of need or poverty, will always share their food with their neighbours.

I once found the nest of a harvest mouse, which was woven of plaited blades of straw of the oats and wheat. It was perfectly round, with the aperture so ingeniously closed that I could scarcely tell to what part of the nest it belonged. It was as round as a marble and would actually roll when placed on a table, although within its walls were six tiny mice, naked and blind. As they increased in size day by day, the elastic wall of their small home expanded, and thus served their need until such time as they were old enough to live independent of this specially provided shelter.

There is a larger animal, known as a "rat-hare" or the harvest rat, which gathers piles of hay for winter use, sometimes to the height of six or eight feet in diameter. They begin harvesting in the early part of August, and after having cut the grass, they carefully spread it out to dry before placing it in their barns. These barns are usually located in holes or crevices of mountains. They are found in immense numbers in the Altai Mountains.

The California woodrat is not only a food hoarder but a notable thief and robber. A nest was found that was a veritable tool chest and pawn shop! It contained fourteen knives, three forks, six small spoons, one large soup spoon, twenty-seven large nails, hundreds of small tacks, two butcher knives, three pairs of eye-glasses, one purse, one string of beads, one rubber ball, two small cakes of soap, one string of red peppers, several boxes of matches, with numerous small buttons, needles, and pins. Apparently these woodrats are as ambitious for unnecessary and useless possessions as is man himself. Their big storeroom did, however, contain a larder in which they had some of their favourite food, such as seeds and nuts.

Some animals have learned not only to acquire, but also to defend and protect, all their property. We see in the human world how strong is the impulse to collect, and children will invariably collect anything from pebbles to peach-pits, if they see other children doing the same thing.

Most animals that do not hoard are those that forage for food, or fish, and rarely have permanent homes. The orang-outangs, for example, are regular gipsies, and go from place to place wherever food is plentiful. They take life easy, and sometimes during their journeys select a suitable spot near the seashore and have a real picnic. A scout has already discovered the right spot for getting big oysters, of which they are exceedingly fond, and when they have assembled, certain ones proceed to dig up the oysters, which they hand to others on the shore and they, in turn, place them on big stones, and proceed to open them for the feast. If one of the fishermen-monkeys discovers an oyster open, he will not insert his hand to remove the meat until first placing a stone between the valves. This assures him protection against the closing of the oyster. In most cases, they open the oysters by first placing them on stones and then using another stone as a hammer. These facts are vouched for by no less authorities than Gamelli Carreri, Dampier, and Wafer.

It is only a matter of time until many animals will understand the use of man-made tools. Some have already learned to use such tools as they make and shape for themselves. Monkeys and apes are already gifted in this art. Of course, under domestication, they use knives, forks, spoons, and dishes not so much from intelligence as from imitation. This, however, might be said of many human beings. I have seen an immense chimpanzee sit in a chair, set his own dinner table, use his knife and fork correctly when eating, and take great delight in the use of his napkin, which he always carefully refolded when his meal was over.

The human-like qualities of apes and monkeys, however, need scarcely be told. They are so very similar to man in most ways that there are few things they cannot do. Aelian tells of an ape which learned to drive horses skilfully. He knew just when and how to use the whip, how much slack to allow in the reins, and when to tighten them! They greatly resent any intrusion on their hunting-grounds, and make use of sticks and clubs to protect them. The chief is always armed with a club, and is thoroughly skilled in the use of it. It sometimes happens that an elephant will come to the same tree to seek food that apes frequent, and although they have no enmity towards each other, they like the same kind of food. As soon as the ape sees the elephant reaching his trunk among the branches, he immediately slips near the elephant, and when an opportunity presents itself, he whacks him over the trunk with his club! The infuriated elephant runs away in terror!

A story is told of a party of foraging apes who went into a cornfield with the purpose of robbing it, and discovered two men. They immediately rushed upon them and attempted to poke their eyes out with sticks and would have succeeded but for the intervention of two other men who chanced to be near. The extreme cleverness of apes in applying their reason and judgment is shown in Vosmaer's account of the female orang-outang, who tried to open the padlock of her chain with a small stick. She had seen her master open it with a key, and she exactly imitated the motion of his hands in the attempt.

Man shows a disposition to deny animals all traits and characteristics which are similar to his own. This reminds us of a remark that Cardinal Newman once made that men know less of animals than they do of angels. Why should we show such foolish pride and delusion, and try to baffle one of God's great facts? When men attempt to extinguish the idea of animal intelligence and sentiment by referring to it as instinct, we are reminded of the desert ostrich, which buries its head in the sand and thinks it cannot be seen. We should proudly acknowledge the wonderful human-like methods of these food conservers of the animal world, and recognise in all this a guiding Providence who provides for and protects all his creatures, be they great or small.

About HackerNoon Book Series: We bring you the most important technical, scientific, and insightful public domain books. This book is part of the public domain.

Dixon, Royal, 2006. The Human Side of Animals. Urbana, Illinois: Project Gutenberg. Retrieved May 2022 from

This eBook is for the use of anyone anywhere at no cost and with almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg License included with this eBook or online at, located at

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