Can Squirrels Eat Peanuts? (and Are They Good For Them)

Peanuts are the world’s favorite snacks. Squirrels eat and really enjoy peanuts, but are they good for them? How about raw, roasted, or salted peanuts? What are the benefits of feeding peanuts to squirrels, and are there any warnings? Let’s take a closer look.

squirrel-eating-peanut

Are Peanuts Good for Squirrels?

Squirrels aren’t picky when it comes to their eating habits. Though peanuts for squirrels seem like a no-brainer, they aren’t that good for squirrels. Unlike most people assume, peanuts are not nuts but legumes. They are more related to soy, beans, and lentils.

Peanuts offer little nutritional value for squirrels. Feed them healthy foods; use peanuts only as a fun treat to bond with the critters in your backyard. If you are going to feed them peanuts, do it occasionally as a snack to vary their diet.

What are the Different Types of Peanuts?

Four major types of peanuts are Runner, Virginia, Spanish, and Valencia. Each comes with a distinctive size, flavor, and nutritional value. Within these four types, there are several varieties used for commercial breeding and cultivation.

1. Runner Peanuts (Arachis hypogaea)

The most popular and widely consumed, Runner Peanuts have a great delicious flavor. Their uniform kernel size ensures even roasting and is used to make peanut butter.

To give maximum yield they need a warm climate and sandy, well-drained soil. They are typically grown in the states of Georgia, Texas, Alabama, Florida, South Carolina, and Oklahoma.

2. Virginia Peanuts (Arachis hypogaea)

The largest of all peanuts, the Virginia peanut is also called the “ballpark” peanut or “the cocktail nuts”. Its larger size makes it great for processing, especially for salting, confections, and in-shell roasting.

Virginia Peanuts are grown mainly in southeastern Virginia and northeastern North Carolina. They are also seen in some parts of South Carolina and West Texas.

3. Spanish Peanuts (Arachis fastigata)

Known for its reddish-brown skins, the Spanish peanut has smaller sized kernels. They are used mostly in peanut candies, peanut snacks, salted peanuts, and peanut butter.

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Spanish peanuts have a higher oil content than the other types of peanuts, which makes them excellent for extracting oil. They are primarily grown in Oklahoma and Texas.

4. Valencia Peanuts (Arachis fastigata)

Having three or more kernels per shell, the Valencia peanuts are the sweetest among the four types. They are popularly sold in-the-shell and are used to make peanut butter. They are also served roasted or boiled. New Mexico accounts for Valencia peanut production.

Peanut Nutrition Facts

Despite the ‘nut’ in their name, peanuts are unrelated to tree nuts. They are a legume and are related to beans, lentils, and soy.

Peanuts are high in fat, mostly of mono- and polyunsaturated fatty acids. Hence, they are used to extract peanut oil.

They are a great source of plant-based proteins – especially arachin and conarachin. These proteins can cause an allergic reaction in humans and animals including squirrels.

Carb in peanuts is very low hence they have a low glycemic index.

Peanuts also contain plenty of potassium, phosphorous, magnesium, copper, and manganese. B-vitamins are also seen abundantly in peanuts.

Peanut comes in all forms: raw, salted, spiced, roasted, candied, and more. Keep in mind that nutritional value differs with different forms and may not be squirrel-friendly.

Are Raw Peanuts Good for Squirrels?

Raw peanuts themselves are not toxic but they aren’t safe for squirrels. Peanuts grow underground, and when they’re harvested, it is possible that they may be contaminated with Aspergillus flavus, a mold that produces a carcinogen called aflatoxin. The toxin also causes liver failure and liver cancer.

According to a review by the Department of Nutrition and Food Science, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, aflatoxins are confirmed as a cause of liver cancer, compromised immunity, poor protein metabolism, and death in farm and laboratory animals.

Cooking or roasting peanuts removes some of the toxins, but not all of it, as aflatoxin remains stable even at relatively high temperatures.

Peanuts also contain a trypsin inhibitor, which interferes with the production of trypsin in the pancreas. This enzyme plays a crucial role in protein reabsorption.

To sum it up, never feed squirrels raw peanuts.

squirrel-holding-peanut

Can Squirrels Eat Salted Peanuts?

Salted food of any kind is harmful to rabbits. Animals including squirrels do require a little bit of sodium to maintain their electrolyte balance. High salt content reduces the kidney’s function and can lead to kidney disease.

If you’re not sure if the store-bought peanuts are salted, taste them before feeding squirrels. Whether you feed nuts or any other foods, have water nearby.

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Are Dry Roasted Peanuts Bad For Squirrels?

Safety of peanut – whether raw, roasted, or boiled – is always a concern among animal lovers and pet parents. The important question is: does roasting destroy aflatoxin and other chemicals? Experts caution that roasting doesn’t destroy the toxins completely.

Another concern is that roasted peanuts come in two types: dry roasted and oil roasted. The dry roasted ones have more sodium in them whereas the oil roasted ones are high in calories.

So, the answer is roasted peanuts aren’t good for squirrels.

Why are Peanuts Bad for Squirrels?

There are many reasons why peanuts are bad for squirrels. The nuts when swallowed can be a choking hazard or may cause gastrointestinal obstruction in baby squirrels.

Peanuts are high in fat, which can be good when given occasionally. However, over a longer period, it can cause pancreatic problems.

Salted peanuts are too high in sodium for squirrels, and flavored peanut brands contain fillers and products that aren’t good for their tiny stomach. Too much sodium affects their kidney function as well.

It is also important to note that peanuts are a common allergen, even for squirrels. Some squirrels can develop mild to severe allergic reactions.

Do Squirrels Like Peanuts?

Squirrels do find peanuts tasty and love eating them. If you watch closely, chances are good that you can spot the critters bustling around in the branches or on the ground, with peanuts that they will store for later.

Shelled peanuts are the most preferable for almost all squirrel types. Besides giving them a chewing exercise, shelled peanut gives some nutrients for them. However, have in mind the peanuts aren’t healthy and you should never prioritize them over small insects, fruits, seeds, and fungi.

Can squirrels have peanut butter?

As with peanut butter, they are downright dangerous to squirrels.

Peanut butter may contain aflatoxins, naturally-occurring mycotoxins that can cause liver diseases, immunosuppression, impaired blood clotting, and protein synthesis, and even cancer.

Trans-fatty acids are another toxic substance. They are the result of hydrogenation, a process that makes food more stable and extends the shelf life. But in reality, they can cause chronic diseases including diabetes and heart diseases. That means you should avoid feeding squirrels peanut butter at all costs.

Most peanut butter contains sugar or xylitol. They are toxic to squirrels and even consuming small amounts can be fatal.

Some peanut butter brands contain chocolate as one of the ingredients and, it should be avoided.

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Pre-harvest spray used by peanut farmers contains high amounts of glyphosate, a potent herbicide. When sprayed right before harvest, plants absorb this chemical quite faster, and washing it entirely off the plant or nuts is impossible. This is another reason why you shouldn’t give peanut butter to squirrels.

Another dangerous ingredient present in peanut butter is a lectin. Lectin elicits inflammatory responses in most animals, including squirrels. They affect gut cells and cause leaky gut. Legumes contain the highest lectin of any food group – meaning peanuts are bad for squirrels.

With so many risks lurking, it’s advisable not to give squirrels peanut butter.

Can Squirrels Have Peanut Allergies?

Just like humans, squirrels can have peanut allergies too. Although peanut allergies are uncommon in animals, it is still good to be cautious and aware of symptoms.

In general peanut allergies are mild. Symptoms include reddened skin, itching, agitation, and in severe cases, animals may show difficulty breathing.

In summary, squirrels just like any other wild animal will eat anything that comes their way because they’re adapted to having to scavenge for food. While it seems like a kind gesture to feed them, you might actually not be doing them any good – if you overfeed them or give dangerous human foods.

In other words, humans’ food items could get them killed because their digestive system doesn’t work like ours.

That said, it’s okay to feed them some of their favorite foods including pecans or peanuts. Keep in mind that peanuts should be given to squirrels as an occasional treat, provided they are unsweetened, unshelled, and unsalted. Fill the feeder with the right foods that provide all essential nutrients to them.

References:  

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5240007/

http://www.rodallrich.com/blog/aflatoxin.pdf

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23017415/

Sonia Madaan

Written by Sonia Madaan

Sonia Madaan is a writer and founding editor of science education blog EarthEclipse. Her passion for science education drove her to start EarthEclipse with the sole objective of finding and sharing fun and interesting science facts. She loves writing on topics related to space, environment, chemistry, biology, geology and geography. When she is not writing, she loves watching sci-fi movies on Netflix.