Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Chipmunk or Squirrel? ~ Nature Study

Do you know the difference?
Both have black stripes running down their back and both can be downright brazen in their attempts to get food from hikers and picnickers.

The biggest physical difference between the two is size. A chipmunk runs about 8 inches long and weighs around 2 ounces, while a golden-mantled ground squirrel is 9 to 12 inches long and weighs between 4 and 14 ounces. The squirrel’s back is brownish gray, with one white stripe bordered by black stripes running down each side. Unlike the chipmunk, the squirrel’s stripes don’t extend up to its face. The squirrel’s name comes from the golden brown or russet mantle over its head and shoulders. Whitish fur circle the eyes.

Scientists classify the golden-mantled ground squirrel as a true ground squirrel, though it will climb trees to reach seeds. Its genus name Spermophilus is Greek for “seed loving.” Like other ground squirrels, the golden-mantle packs seeds and fruit in its cheek pouches and stores the food in burrows, puts on a thick layer of fat, and hibernates in winter. Golden-mantled ground squirrels eat their stored food in early spring, when seeds and fruit are scarce. In addition to seeds and fruit, the omnivorous ground squirrel eats fungi, forbs, insects, bird eggs, small vertebrates, and carrion.

Though the golden-mantled ground squirrel can vocalize, it remains silent most of the time. When alarmed, it chirps and squeals. Though not especially aggressive, it growls when fighting with other ground squirrels.

Though tempting, it’s not a good idea to feed these or any other wild animals; it distracts them from searching for natural foods, which they must eat in large quantities to survive. Unlike most other ground squirrels, the golden mantle is a loner. It only spends time with others of its kind as a youngster with its mother and siblings.

A funny story... Public Service Announcement: Do Not Try This At Home.

When I was little, we did a lot of camping in Central Oregon. One year, my youngest brother got it into his head that he could catch a chipmunk. My parents must have chuckled over that one because, like most boys he was very busy and was only still when he was sleeping. My parents always encouraged us, however, so my mom gave him a nearly empty potato chip bag.

Surprisingly, my brother must have sat with his legs extended out in front of him, holding the bag in his hand and resting it on the ground between his legs for over an hour! That in itself was quite an accomplishment.

There was one brave little chipmunk that followed the trail my brother had laid out to lead it to the bag. As soon as it stepped into the bag, my brother has never moved faster in his life! He scooped up the bag and closed it with one swift movement. "I got it! I got it!"

Of course we let the little thing go... but it was certainly a memorable experience.


  1. Neat story! They are usually so quick.

  2. We got grey squirrels here, so its pretty easy to tell them from the chipmunks. On the Silver Comet, the squirrels are always in the way. I've seen more chipmunks this year, and they are ALWAYS on the GO GO GO :-) Like they are on crack or something. Skittish little guys.


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