Nautilus

Is It Normal to Hoard?

Animals like to hoard. Christopher E. Overtree, director of the Psychological Services Center at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst and a specialist in treating hoarding, says that “the mechanisms triggering this kind of biological reflex are present in all of us.” A friend of his in Minnesota had an eagle’s nest on his property fall from a tree. This led to a surprising discovery: 23 dog and cat collars. “The eagle ate the animals but saved the collars,” says Overtree. His own cat, Gus, wasn’t much better. Overtree recently tailed his cat sneaking off with his wife’s costume jewelry, dragging the trinkets into the attic and stashing them in a hole in the floor. “I realized he must be saving it,” says Overtree. “I think it is interesting to see a behavior that has no practical value in an animal.”

Hoarding, some scientists suggest, is a sensible action to take in an uncertain world. “We have been shaped by evolutionary pressures in the past to deal with resource scarcity, and hoarding is one of those possible strategies,” says John L. Koprowski, professor of wildlife conservation and management at the University of Arizona and an authority on squirrels. He refutes the conventional wisdom that squirrels only gather what they need to survive winters. Studies of eastern gray squirrels, for instance, suggest

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