Chipmunk versus Ground Squirrel

Back in the late 1960’s, Dad and Mom hauled 7 of us children to the Grand Mesa in Colorado. We were crammed in a non-airconditioned station wagon, pulling a pop-up camper in early August. I don’t remember the Grand Mesa.

I do know that it is cooler on the Grand Mesa than where I am living for the summer. The mesa rises to an average elevation of around 10,000 feet. My apartment at Colorado National Monument is at approximately 5,700’ in elevation. On my first visit to the mesa, I noted the temperature in the valley was 102°. Upon reaching the Visitor’s Center up on top, the temperature was 73°. That was much more to my liking. Unfortunately, it is a little too far to commute daily.

Chipmunks and ground squirrels frequent the mesa. A local hotspot for seeing them up-close is by the Land’s End Observatory, on the west end of the mesa. They are accustomed to begging for food and being fed, offering close-up comparisons.

The Golden-mantled Ground Squirrel is on the left and the Least Chipmunk is on the right. Grand Junction can be seen in the green valley far below. Sony a7R III + 24-105mm lens @ 24mm, ISO 500, f/9, 1/1000. ©Stanley Buman.

There is a difference between the two mammals. Compare the size and patterns in the close-up image below.

The Golden-mantled Ground Squirrel (left) is often mistaken for a chipmunk (right) because of its resemblance. However, it is larger and has no stripes on its head. The tail is also shorter than that of the Least Chipmunk. Sony a7R III + 24-105mm lens @ 51mm, ISO 500, f/9, 1/1000. ©Stanley Buman.

To survive the long winters, Golden-mantled Ground Squirrels put on a layer of fat to fuel their bodies while they hibernate. Their bodies slow down to the point of only needing one breath a minute and five heart beats a minute.

Golden-mantled Ground Squirrels stuff seeds and fruits in their cheek pouches to carry back to their burrow. During the summer, they gain extra weight in order to prepare for hibernation. Sony a7R III + 24-105mm lens @ 73mm, ISO 500, f/9, 1/1000. ©Stanley Buman.

Least Chipmunks employ a slightly different tactic for winter survival. They are not true hibernators. Instead, they are in a state of torpor, from which they occasionally arouse to feed on stored food. Therefore, it is critical that they stash food to make it through the winter.

The Least Chipmunk has a large range of habitat, living from the low elevations to above timberline. Sony a1 + 100-400mm lens & 1.4x teleconverter @ 458mm, ISO 2500 f/8, 1/2000. ©Stanley Buman.

Looking back on all of our wonderful yearly family vacations during the 60’s and 70’s, I wonder how many times we thought we were feeding chipmunks when we were actually feeding ground squirrels. Actually, it didn’t matter. It did help nurture my appreciation and love of wildlife.

14 thoughts on “Chipmunk versus Ground Squirrel”

  1. Jeanne M Kenkel-Tajvar

    I am remember going out West as a kid and feeding ground squirrels on our family vacation too!

  2. Wes & CJ Niles

    Cool, Stan. We always love your updates with wonderful pictures and educational material! We appreciate your talent, delving into details and talent in communicating
    to us. Enjoy your summer! Wes & CJ

  3. Thanks Stan. Your articles are awesome, pictures superb, and your humor makes me smile.
    Darlene Von Weihe

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