Editorial: Where have all the acorns gone?

11 a.m. Dec. 5, 2013

Team People reports an unusually high number of losses lately for mammals on other teams — in the form of roadkill, to be precise. But people don’t seem to be driving more aggressively or less mindfully. So what’s the explanation?

Acorns! Or rather the dearth of acorns throughout most of Virginia this fall, according to biologists and other scientists who study such things.

Rich in fat, soluble carbohydrates and energy, acorns as a food source have “extensive and complex” impacts on wildlife populations, in the words of Gary Norman, of the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries. Numerous factors, including weather, insects and disease, can “influence acorn development from the time of flower initiation to acorn maturity.”

White oaks produce acorns in one growing season, whereas red oaks require two — which makes it tougher to attribute low acorn production by both groups in one season to specific weather events in a single year.

Whatever the cause, the scarcity of this important wildlife food leads to hungry animals ranging far and wide — and across highways — in search of food. Near Roanoke, numerous bears have been struck and killed this fall by motorists, as especially sows with cubs seek to fatten up for winter inactivity. Here in Rappahannock, dead deer, skunks, possums and squirrels are splattered everywhere.

Acorns are one of the state’s most common types of “hard mast,” a term that includes other tree nuts as forest food sources such as hickory and walnut. The scarcity of acorns this fall might have delayed the deer rut according to one hunting expert, because bucks and does have been so lean. Deer are also now more likely to leave forested areas to browse vegetation because without acorns the woods provide little more than cover.

Interestingly, last year was a bumper crop of acorns. And forestry department research has shown that “the inherent cycles between bumper crops and light crops may be an adaptation to allow the trees to restore their resources following a bumper crop.”

Ecosystems encompass exceedingly complex and often incalculable interactions, of course. Everything impacts something else, and any change brings both temporary “winners” and “losers.” For example, acorns are also an important food source for the white-footed mouse, which in turn is an important target in the life cycle of the deer tick. So next summer should see a lower incidence of Lyme disease!

So say the human experts.

Walter Nicklin

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53 Responses to Editorial: Where have all the acorns gone?

  1. Ricardo on Dec. 9, 2013 at 11:16 am

    Here in Pennsylvania, the mast crop is really low as well. Many hunters who manage their land for game animals are finding that their food plots are being overrun by animals because the ‘natural’ areas are not capable of supporting the overpopulated deer herd (and other animals).

  2. dave on Dec. 9, 2013 at 12:10 pm

    Everyone who has ever lived in the country knows this, one year there is a bumper crop (mass year), followed be a lean year. It’s an endless cycle.

  3. slimW on Dec. 9, 2013 at 12:21 pm

    There is a surplus of nuts in DC send them there.

  4. Mihailo Ilic on Dec. 9, 2013 at 12:21 pm

    Another source for the reported “hungry”.

  5. Tex Lovera on Dec. 9, 2013 at 12:23 pm

    I feel bad about the bears and deer and rabbits getting run over by cars.

    But not the squirrels. They are horrible little tree rats.

    Dead squirrel = good squirrel.

  6. wynotme307 on Dec. 9, 2013 at 12:55 pm

    I travel extensively and have noticed a distinct drop in the number of road kill in most prairie states. I believe the food source has been corrupted by GMO agriculture. Acorns, are another matter, but the article reflects the growing, or shall I say shrinking, problem of the extinction of current wildlife populations across the board.

  7. Garr Obo on Dec. 9, 2013 at 1:28 pm

    Well, I guess my local squirrels will be eating corn this winter.

  8. grumpyKoz on Dec. 9, 2013 at 1:34 pm

    First, I must have ALL the acorns, unless this article relates to Pres. Obama’s Marxist recruitment team.
    I am willing to sell some to anyone who needs them.
    Second, we can just chalk the loss of these animals as “cost of doing buisiness” like Obama did with the Eagles. The wind farm greenies give it an “Oh Well!”

  9. alan on Dec. 9, 2013 at 1:38 pm

    Here come the global warming nuts:) Yes, due to the severe ice and cold during this period of global warming has made the man made global warming idiots insane.

  10. Gary Griffin on Dec. 9, 2013 at 1:44 pm

    Overabundance of acorns last season means overabundance of animals to eat them. More animals = more roadkill. Send me my $1.2 million for this study. Ignorance is rampant.

  11. Cupric on Dec. 9, 2013 at 1:48 pm

    What kind of feral hog population do they have around there?

  12. Will Jenkins on Dec. 9, 2013 at 3:53 pm

    What a wacko nutcase comment to cry about GMO without a shred of evidence to back anything up outside your nutty mind.

    Conspiracy theorists are a deranged crowd. Keep living in fear, cowards!!

  13. Todd on Dec. 9, 2013 at 4:06 pm

    The acorns didn’t grow this year because the 17yr cicadas damaged the oak trees. Actually helps the oak trees in the long run because the cicadas aerate the soil around the tree roots. Rough on the animals this year. But that keeps them in check.

  14. Laka on Dec. 9, 2013 at 4:44 pm

    If the roadkill are chickens, I guess the old question is finally answered.

  15. Rob on Dec. 9, 2013 at 5:18 pm

    We need a GVT program to help support all of the animals that can not make ends meet.

    What shall we call it?

  16. Dat_Truth_Hurts on Dec. 9, 2013 at 5:28 pm

    This story is nuts.

  17. joan on Dec. 9, 2013 at 5:33 pm

    Here there was rain, rain, rain that I think kept the oaks from pollinating as they would in drier years. I suppose the “climate change” believers will want to make something of that. Wrong. I’m not young and I am from a farm family. That is just the way weather is. One year there is too much rain, another not enough. One year it is cool and another is blistering hot. Feast and famine from weather fluctuations have gone on for centuries. Read the Bible. Ancient Egypt under the pharaohs, at Joseph’s direction, planned for a seven year famine—and survived it when it came. Ain’t nothing new under the sun for mankind.

  18. Tim Wiese on Dec. 9, 2013 at 6:04 pm

    Thank god it’s due to the acorn shortage… I just thought the animals we suicidal because of how cold it is.

  19. Susan on Dec. 9, 2013 at 6:45 pm

    No shortage in SW MISSOURI!

  20. Robert Strasner on Dec. 9, 2013 at 7:08 pm

    The decline of wildlife in the Plains States is directly proportional to the lack of moisture (or in other words because of the drought.) Please ask someone who not only lives here but is professionally involved in raising those dastardly GMOs before making such an uneducated, unfounded statement. After all, it really makes sense for me to poison all of the consumers who are buying my product now, doesn’t it? And, it really makes sense for me to endanger the wildlife that I depend on for pollination, rodent control and the like. Please bring me sound data, unbiased studies and competent research to prove your falsehoods before throwing such a defaming and damaging comment out there because I take it personally.

  21. Doug on Dec. 9, 2013 at 7:13 pm

    Plenty of acorns in Michigan this year along with apples that grew in such abundance that the trees were splitting from the weight. Just a normal cycle.

  22. Al on Dec. 9, 2013 at 7:40 pm

    Here in sw MO we’ve had a bumper crop of acorns this year. Haven’t seen a crop like this before, and like this article suggests there’s also been noticeably fewer dead animals on the road this season.


  23. kathy on Dec. 9, 2013 at 7:48 pm

    We have an over abundance of acorns out here in N. California. Been picking them up out of the lawn since July. Where we didn’t have to pick them out you can even see the soil they are so thick.

  24. Martin on Dec. 9, 2013 at 7:49 pm

    NC must have all the acorns cause there is a bumper crop this year…

  25. tdrag on Dec. 9, 2013 at 8:23 pm

    Not to worry folks, after Obama Care kicks in we will need that roadkill for dinner because our health insurance premiums will be so high. Just get it will it’s still warm.

  26. Jewish Surgeon on Dec. 9, 2013 at 8:34 pm

    Must be that Global warming Hoax at work.

  27. Just A Guy on Dec. 9, 2013 at 8:53 pm

    Hunting roadkill:
    Required equipment: Chalk, spatula. Buddy.

    Walk down the road and draw a chalk circle around any roadkill you find.
    When you come back, if there is no chalk circle, the kill is fresh. Use the spatula to gather your kill.

    Buddy? He is looking out for cars so you don’t need to be marked by a chalk circle.

  28. KWHodges56 on Dec. 9, 2013 at 9:24 pm

    Years with little, if any, acorns will be years with at least one huge hurricane.

  29. Caif on Dec. 9, 2013 at 9:29 pm

    Here in northern Delaware, was the largest Acorn drop I ever saw. Last year was barely a mature acorn hitting the ground. It is a cycle. I read somewhere that the trees do this to limit insect infestation. Also, as Todd mentioned, the cicadas may have contributed to the scarcity of acorns in your neck of the woods. We had no such cicada hatch. I collect acorns for Bannock Bread, btw. Next heavy drop, look it up and try it with some home made maple syrup (another story). . .

  30. Mike L on Dec. 9, 2013 at 10:10 pm

    I have Chestnut Oak trees on my property in Pa. Over the past 40+ years I noted a great variation in the # of acorns from year to year and presumed it was weather conditions. My daughter who now has her PhD in plant biology informed me while she was attending Duke University there is a theory that the forest oak trees that survived over the eons were those that varied their acorns from year to year. If the output was similar every year the population of animals that relied on them for food would rise and level off to devour all of them and leave none to produce new trees.

  31. Bill Aborn on Dec. 9, 2013 at 10:45 pm

    This happened a few years back in an area from Maine to Maryland. Then, they attributed the acorn shortage to an unusally wet Spring, especially during the two week(?) pollination window which they said impeded the oaks pollination.

  32. Ed Simple on Dec. 9, 2013 at 11:14 pm

    This is global warming, this is Bush’s fault! LOL – seriously, no. what is nature saying…fewer acorns, fewer trees, less CO2 absorbed, the earth is balancing itself in this global COOLING cycle…..

    OR it’s just suicidal squirrels finally getting up the courage to end it all and protest man’s invasion of their homes.

    Perhaps it’s time for Obama to step up and declare amnesty for these poor animals….

  33. OldOllie on Dec. 10, 2013 at 1:15 am

    Acorn shortage? I’m ankle-deep in the damned things. You’re welcome to come and get them.

  34. Maxwell on Dec. 10, 2013 at 1:20 am

    Have no fear, Obama is now issuing EBT Cards to the wildlife …another crisis avoided!

  35. Maxwell on Dec. 10, 2013 at 1:24 am

    The trouble is you got all these female trees living together they will start having the same cycle, I think I saw that on Oprah?

  36. Michael on Dec. 10, 2013 at 1:24 am

    I find that very hard to believe. I’m a deer hunter in NC, and there are so many acorns this year that both deer and squirrels are tottaly ignoring my piles of corn. I constantly watch them run right past them without even a second glance. The ground is totally covered in acorns. Can VA be so different than NC? I’ve been in VA a lot the last several months. and saw lots of deer. They did not look skinny to me. Every night and morning driving to and from my hotel in Charlottesville, there would be at least 3 deer run in fromt of me. lucky for me, I did not hit any, as I did last year working at the same site. What gives with this article? The reason so many deer are getting hit by cars is there are way to many deer for the habitat and not enough hunters harvesting deer. Do a little more research and get the facts straight.

  37. Michael on Dec. 10, 2013 at 1:34 am

    On, I see a lot more road kill in NC with our bumper crop of acorns than I do in VA with the supposed drought of acorns. Perhaps you might look at the all of the nice green grass still on the roadsides that the deer so much love to eat…

  38. Dave C on Dec. 10, 2013 at 3:57 am

    ACORNs are long extinct; the flying ditto monkeys swooped down amidst some phony Youtube scandal. Now they’ve moved on to voter ID laws, claiming climate change is an obvious hoax because it’s cold out, and decrying the end of Merica that is Obamacare (Revelation 6:66).

  39. Bob Munro on Dec. 10, 2013 at 4:30 am

    I’m from Canada , and I just stumbled upon this . If this is news around your town , I think I’ll move there .

  40. calvin labash on Dec. 10, 2013 at 4:57 am

    Some judge should force a baker to bake the animals a wedding cake. Problem solved.

  41. Hungry Howie on Dec. 10, 2013 at 6:06 am

    Roadkill (fresh) is deeeelischious!!!
    Sun baked on the pavement, hot & juicy!

  42. LOWRYDER on Dec. 10, 2013 at 6:08 am

    why dont thay just blame it on Bush

  43. Ed on Dec. 10, 2013 at 9:19 am

    Good, maybe we will see a huge drop off in all the deer and bear in lower NY state and New Jersey. This is a load of crap as well as all the numb-nuts who are running on about GLOBAL CLIMATE CHANGE and warming. The animal population needs to ebb and flow just like everything else, just like the fall of liberalism around the world.

  44. Larry on Dec. 10, 2013 at 9:56 am

    so give them an EBT card…why not everyone else has one…you might even get “acorn” to sign them up so they can vote democrat..hey..they get dead people to vote……….

  45. Alan on Dec. 10, 2013 at 10:23 am

    It is just a regional problem. I live in southern Minnesota and we had a bumper crop this year. Kept the deer damage to the landscape at a minimum.

  46. John on Dec. 10, 2013 at 10:29 am

    Here in Western WA, it was a bumper crop year for acorns.
    That means that I have caught a record number of rats and I have duck poop all over my yard.

  47. rawiron1 on Dec. 10, 2013 at 10:34 am

    Not in Virginia. Nuts galore! Squirrel Central! Best darn Squirrel season in over 20 years!

  48. Ozzone on Dec. 10, 2013 at 10:55 am

    As soon as Al Gore found out about this he jumped into his private jet, flew to Virginia, and proceeded to hold speeches around college campuses warning the clueless about climate change and encouraged those academics to log onto his website – getcarboncredits.com.

  49. Kevin on Dec. 10, 2013 at 11:10 am

    I lmow exactly why there is a shortage of acorns everywhere else…
    They are all right here in my yard this year.
    I have never seen so many, and such big acorns as this year. My yard is 2 inches deep in the darn things in places. I was blowing leaves this past weekend and it was like trying to blow gravel. WTH? Anybody have any theories why they are so heavy here in Georgia? I suspect it was the wet summer, and cooler than normal temps.
    If anybody needs some, bring a shovel and come on.

  50. twocanpete on Dec. 10, 2013 at 11:38 am

    CHEMTRAILS……..look up!

  51. Gary Grady on Dec. 10, 2013 at 11:51 am

    In my area we went through a drought last year and sure enough, the drought year was followed by an over-abundance of spring tree seedlings and a bountiful acorn and walnuts this fall. God has a way.

  52. texasgoat on Dec. 10, 2013 at 12:09 pm


  53. ranch111 on Dec. 10, 2013 at 12:52 pm

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