Why do squirrels eat Christmas lights?

It’s that time of year and Google tells me that squirrels make a meal out of Christmas lights, not only in Mears Park, Saint Paul, Minnesota, USA, but elsewhere; anywhere where there are outdoor Christmas lights. So why are squirrels nibbling through the wiring of Christmas lights or the lights themselves?

The squirrels of Mears Park, Saint Paul, Minnesota
The squirrels of Mears Park, Saint Paul, Minnesota. Photo: Scott Takushi | Pioneer Press via AP.


In the case of the Saint Paul lights, the problem was that the wiring was coated with polylactic acid (PLA), a derivative of corn sugar. This is edible. It reminds me of domestic cats chewing plastic bags because some plastic bags are made with polylactic acid as I recall. Quite a lot of cat owners have asked questions about that. You will see on the Internet domestic cats being somewhat obsessed by plastic bags but they appear to be interested in the cornstarch.

As a consequence of the Saint Paul disaster, this year the organisers are using a projector to create a kaleidoscope of snowflakes 😊. No chance of the squirrels eating that.

One website states that squirrels see the small light bulbs as a potential food source. They eat the wires to get to their ‘plastic nuts’. I don’t find this argument very plausible although it might be true. That analysis gets the top rating by Google. Why don’t they just go straight for the bulbs? Why do they have to chew through the cabling first?

Another website states that squirrels chew through electrical cables, joining up Christmas lights, because they need to wear down their teeth to stop them getting too long. They choose the cabling because they have a delicious soy-based plastic covering. That is their analysis.

They also state that squirrels mistake the light bulbs for food and steal them. They are acorn-shaped which might be confusing squirrels. They steal them and bury them just like they do other nuts. There may be some credence in this. The squirrels that I feed, occasionally eat a plastic knob controlling the lock to the garden gate. Either they are wearing down their teeth or they think the black plastic knob is edible food.

I think those are all the reasons that I can find on the Internet. They might all have some veracity. However, the best reason is the polylactic acid coating. But why do manufacturers coat wiring with polylactic acid?

There is a paper on “polylactic acid-coated cable”. Polylactic acid a.k.a. PLA is a plant-derived polymer. It is environmentally-friendly. It is biodegradable and it saves fossil resources and reduces carbon dioxide emissions. It’s applied to many products including plastic bags as mentioned above. Perhaps these were cutting-edge Christmas lights made by a manufacturer which wanted to do their bit to reduce climate change emissions. Now they can see that there is a downside to it! I wonder how they will react?

I think plastic manufacturers are now using PLA to create products that would otherwise have been made with plastic which ultimately is derived from petrochemicals. And as you know petrochemicals are environmentally unfriendly.

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