Chipmunks are small, striped rodents of the family Sciuridae or the squirrel family.
Lively and speedy critters, chipmunks are the smallest members of the squirrel family.
There are 25 species of chipmunks.
Chipmunks may be classified either as a single genus, Tamias, or as three genera: Tamias (1 species), Neotamias (23 species) and Eutamias (1 species).
Chipmunks are found in North America, with the exception of the Siberian chipmunk which is found primarily in Asia.
Ranging from Canada to Mexico, they are generally seen scampering through the undergrowth of a variety of environments from alpine forests to shrubby deserts.
The average lifespan of a chipmunk in the wild is between 2 and 3 years.
Chipmunks have cheek pouches, large, glossy eyes, stripes, and bushy tails.
They range in size from the least chipmunk, which, at 18.5 to 21.6 centimeters (7.2 to 8.5 inches) and 32 to 50 grams (1.1 to 1.8 ounces), is the smallest chipmunk, to the Eastern chipmunk, which grows up to 28 centimeters (11 inches) and weighs as much as 125 grams (4.4 ounces).
Depending on species, chipmunks can be gray to reddish-brown in color with contrasting dark and light stripes on the sides of their face and across their back and tail.
Chipmunks have 5 toes on their front paws and 4 toes on their back paws.
Chipmunks are solitary creatures and normally ignore one another except during the spring, when mating takes place.
Chipmunks are diurnal. In other words, they only come out during the daytime. The reason is not because they are blind at night, but because everything is too dark for their main defense system – their eyes – to work to their advantage.
Chipmunks have an omnivorous diet primarily consisting of seeds, nuts, fruits, and buds. They also commonly eat grass, shoots, and many other forms of plant matter, as well as fungi, insects and other arthropods, small frogs, worms, and bird eggs.
Chipmunks construct expansive burrows which can be more than 3.5 meters (11 feet) in length with several well-concealed entrances. Most burrows have several sleeping areas, as well as food storage areas. The sleeping area, or nest is enlarged and filled shredded leaves to make a comfortable bed. The sleeping quarters are kept clean as shells and feces are stored in refuse tunnels.
Some species of chipmunk make their homes in logs, bushes are abandoned nests.
Chipmunks have large cheek pouches that allow them to transport food to their burrows for either storage or consumption. These cheeks can stretch to be three times larger than the chipmunk’s head!
Chipmunks hibernate in winter, but they don’t sleep all the way through the season. They retreat to their burrows but wake every few days, raise their body temperatures to normal and feed on stored food.
When chipmunks are in the deep sleep phase of hibernation their heart rate declines from about 350 beats per minute to about 4 beats per minute, and their body temperature can drop from 34.5°C (94°F) to whatever the temperature of the burrow — as cold as 4.5°C (40°F).
Chipmunks are protective of their burrows and use a range of loud chirps as well as body language to express occupied territory, dominance, or warn their young of danger. Females also have a mating call for which they use their high-pitched, bird-like vocalizations.
Like other rodents, chipmunks have live births after carrying their young for a gestation period of around 30 days. Female chipmunks usually give birth to 2 to 8 young at one time and give birth one to two times per year, once in the late spring and sometimes again in the fall.
Chipmunks are sized like a bumblebee at birth. They are blind, naked and helpless. Both parents take care of the babies.
The young emerge from the burrow after about six weeks and strike out on their own within the next two weeks. Then, they build their own home and start gathering food to last them throughout the coming winter.
Predators of chipmunks include hawks, minks, raccoons, weasels, martens, foxes, bobcats, coyotes, wolves, cats and large snakes.
According to the IUCN’s Red List, only one chipmunk species is endangered. The Palmer’s chipmunk, (Neotamias palmeri) [photo below], is found only on one small mountain range, the Spring Mountains in southwestern Nevada. Their population decline is due mostly to the invasion of humans in their habitat and domestic cats killing chipmunks in large numbers.
The name chipmunk comes from the “chip-chip” sound that the creatures make.
A male chipmunk is called a buck; a female chipmunk is called a doe; a baby chipmunk is called kit, kitten, or pup ; a group of chipmunks is called a scurry.
Chipmunks fulfill several important functions in forest ecosystems. Their activities harvesting and hoarding tree seeds play a crucial role in seedling establishment.
One chipmunk can gather up to 165 acorns in a day.
They are excellent tree climbers and swimmers.
Famous chipmunks are Disney’s Chip N Dale and Alvin and the Chipmunks which are Alvin, Simon and Theodore.