How To Open A Black Walnut

Fox squirrel with partially open black walnut (photo by Donna Foyle)

30 October 2014

There’s a bumper crop of black walnuts in my neighborhood this month, so many that they’ve stained the sidewalk black.  They’re good to eat but how do you open them?

If you’re a human, you put on rubber gloves and safety glasses and hit the nuts with a hammer.  The first whack cracks the greenish-yellow husk that stains everything black, hence the gloves.

The husk is the easy part.  The shells are very, very hard to crack.  Some people suggest using a vise instead of a hammer to open the nuts but no matter what you do pieces of shell go flying, hence the safety glasses.

If you’re a squirrel you don’t have tools but you do have teeth.

Donna Foyle watched a fox squirrel open a black walnut outside her window.  The squirrels open peanuts in a flash but this black walnut took a long time.

The squirrel began by gnawing a hole on the side of the nut.
Fox squirrel opening a black walnut (photo by Donna Foyle)

“He quickly gnawed the shell, turning it, gnawing many times, turning it, gnawing almost in continuous quick motion, turning it again.  He never deliberately stopped gnawing to spit out the shredded shell,”  wrote Donna.

You can see he made the “sawdust” fly.  No goggles for him!
Fox squirrel making the sawdust fly as he opens a black walnut (photo by Donna Foyle)

After 40 minutes he’d made real headway.  The hole was a bowl from which he ate the nutmeat.
Fox squirrel opening a black walnut (photo by Donna Foyle)

Did he save the rest for later?

The squirrels in my neighborhood are eating fewer and saving more, burying them in everyone’s mulch.

(photos by Donna Foyle)

6 thoughts on “How To Open A Black Walnut

  1. Just wondering if anyone has seen any Junco’s in the area yet. I live in North Versailles and haven’t seen them yet. Usually have quite a flock of them. Perhaps the weather is still to warm.

    1. Patsy, the juncos are just starting to arrive. I saw a few last week at Harrison Hills and one in Schenley. They haven’t arrived in big numbers yet.

  2. I put out a little bit of leftover popcorn (unsalted, unspiced) for my backyard squirrels about once a week and they are quick to find this tasty snack. I always enjoy watching them eat it. The other day one squirrel was diligently burying the popcorn instead of eating it. I wanted to advise him/her that that was probably not a good idea. Popcorn is better for immediate snacking and probably does not bury well. Alas, I guess food is food and come fall food is to be buried.

  3. We have avocado trees,and squirrels know that avocados don’t ripen on the tree, but only after they are removed. So they knock a few down at a time and come back for them later. They open them the same way, gnaw a hole and suck out the fruit. Fortunately, trees make a lot. And it keeps them away from the birdseed. (mostly)

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