How do northern flying squirrels (Glaucomys sabrinus) locate truffles (Gautieria monticola) – bearing in mind that the truffles are a subterranean and ephemeral but primary food source?
Sanjay Pyare (Assistant Professor of GIS and Landscape Ecology, at the University of Alaska Southeast, ) and colleague William S Longland (at the Agricultural Research Service, Reno, NV) investigated this question back in 2001, and published the results of their observations in the Canadian Journal of Zoology, 2001, 79:1007-1015.
Their field study showed that not only do flying squirrels find truffles using their sense of smell – but they also remember where they found truffles on previous occasions (truffles often re-grow in the same spot for several years).
But truffles can be located not only by flying squirrels - they can also be found by electronic devices. A wealth of information on such techniques can be found in : The North American Truffler: Journal of the North American Truffling Society.
Take for example, the Electronic Nose of Krishna Persaud (Professor of Chemoreception and Head of the Centre of Instrumentation and Analytical Science at the University of Manchester, UK). The Electronic Nose has advantages over more traditional methods of truffle hunting : “Difficulties of training and transporting dogs or pigs are avoided as well as operating losses due to animals eating truffles.”
For further details see: ‘Electronic equipment for detecting truffles|uses polymeric detectors whose electrical resistance varies with amount of volatile material in air‘.
Front page image: Canadian Museum of Nature