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A Chipmunk Off The Old Rock


Chipmunks and Golden-mantled Ground Squirrels (the only similar squirrel) are both furry, cute rodents and they are often confused. Although chipmunks are a subspecies of ground squirrels, they have a few differences.

The Rocky Mountains are populated extensively by these little animals, especially in late spring, summer, and early autumn, when the ground squirrels aren't hibernating. The most common true chipmunk to be found in most parts of the Rockies is the Least Chipmunk, although, when not hibernating, ground squirrels appear more abundant. Chipmunks also hibernate, although that is not true in warm places, where they remain active all year long. Even in places where they do hibernate, they often wake up on warm days to eat the food they stored.

Chipmunks are almost half the size of ground squirrels and move much faster. Chipmunks are also reddish-brown, as opposed to the tan coloring of ground squirrels. But the easiest way to tell them apart is their stripes. Ground squirrels don't have stripes anywhere except on their backs, while chipmunks have stripes both on their backs and over their eyes. When we observed chipmunks and ground squirrels in their natural habitat, we saw that they chased each other, ate the same foods, including wild raspberries, and shared a burrow system in the cracks of some boulders. The chipmunks didn't seem to hibernate. Although they have differences, they have many more things in common than not.

There are twenty five species of chipmunks, and, including both chipmunks and ground squirrels, over 365 species of squirrels. It's easy to see why ground squirrels (who do live on or under the ground) got their name, but the word "chipmunk" isn't so evident. One theory is that because chipmunks make sharp chipping noises with their teeth, they came to be called chitmunks, chipmuck, chipmonk or chip squirrels. Other sources say that chipmunks were named from a Native American word "ajidamoo," which means "red squirrel."

Chipmunks are omnivores, and they eat berries, seeds, insects, flowers, leaves, stems, and other fruits. Sometimes they even scavenge for leftover meat. The ground squirrel is similar, but it also eats piñon nuts and underground fungus, but does not scavenge.

Chipmunks have become adorable cartoon characters, thanks to Chip and Dale, who are constantly dancing around in circles on Mickey Mouse's Christmas tree or scurrying up trees with acorns clutched in their furry paws. Although chipmunks don't actually live in trees, these classic cartoons are very cute, very funny, and give people a positive view of rodents (Tom and Jerry, Mickey Mouse, and others that feature mice or other rodents also have this same effect).


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