Have you ever seen a chipmunk or a ground squirrel in your backyard? These two animals often look very similar and can be difficult to distinguish from each other. While chipmunks and ground squirrels can be hard to tell apart, they can easily differentiate from their other relative: tree squirrels. If you’ve ever wanted to know what makes the difference between these two, here’s an easy guide to the most telling signs to help you identify a chipmunk vs squirrel.
What is a Chipmunk?
There are 25 species mainly found in North America, from Canada down to Mexico. Only one chipmunk, the Siberian, calls Northern Asia and Europe home. Woodchucks, prairie dogs, and squirrels are all related.
Chipmunks mainly live below ground, but they have extraordinary abilities to climb high places like trees quickly!
The eastern chipmunk is one of the most common chipmunks and is brownish in color. They measure 5 to 6 inches (13 to 15 cm) in length and weigh about 3 ounces (90 g). There are two tan and five blackish longitudinal stripes on its back and two tan and two brown stripes on each side of its face. The longitudinal stripes lead into the hind end which is reddish in color. The tail is hairy but not bushy and is 3 to 4 inches (8 to 10 cm) long.
They are most commonly seen in the springtime when their food is abundant, like nuts and fruits. They hibernate during winter, but not like a bear. Unlike bears, chipmunks wake up every few days for brief periods to eat and go to the bathroom, then return to sleeping.
What is a Ground Squirrel?
The 24 different species of ground squirrels and the members of this group take on many different shapes and sizes. Though some have pretty furry tails, they do not resemble the typical bushy-tailed tree squirrel. Some have rather chubby bodies, while others are leaner in shape.
As their name implies, the ground squirrel lives in various ecosystems. The ground squirrel lives on ecosystems like rocky areas, grasslands, prairies, pastures, farmland, parks, gardens, and open woodlands. You can often find them in grassy yards, cemeteries, and golf courses.
A ground squirrel’s body size also varies greatly. They range in length from 6 inches to 29 inches and can be over 17 pounds! Some have rather chubby bodies, while others are leaner in shape.
Ground squirrels hibernate from September to March, and they emerge from hibernation with huge appetites. They are also light sleepers during hibernation and wake up every few days like chipmunks.
As a matter of fact, there are two ground squirrels that are mistaken for chipmunks and they are the Golden-mantled ground squirrel and the 13-Lined ground squirrel.
How to Identify a Chipmunk vs Squirrel by Sight
Let’s identify a chipmunk and a ground squirrel by sight. The first thing to look for is the stripes.
There are two tan and five blackish longitudinal stripes on its back and two tan and two brown stripes on each side of its face. The longitudinal stripes lead into the hind end which is reddish in color.
Golden-mantled Ground squirrel
A Golden-mantled ground squirrel has stripes on its body but not on its face. They have a single large white stripe on each side of their body, bordered with black stripes. A golden orange-brown mantle shades their head and shoulders and their tail is shorter than you would expect.
This ground squirrel is about 9 to 11.5 inches (23 to 29 cm) in length. For an adult squirrel, the weight range is 4 to 14 ounces (120 to 394 g).
The golden-mantled squirrel, native to western North America, is often mistaken for chipmunks. They live in the Rocky Mountains of British Columbia and Alberta, and most of the Western United States.
13-lined ground squirrel
As their name implies, they have 13 light stripes with rows of light spots that run the length of their backs looking like dotted lines. The background color is brown or tan with a white belly.
A full-grown adult squirrel is close to 11 inches (28 cm) long, which includes a 5 to 6 inch (13 to 15 cm) tail. Their weight ranges from 4 to 5 ounces (113 to 142 gm) in the spring, but double that weight to endure winter.
Often sitting erect with their head pointing up, you’ll notice they have short ears. Tails are bushy but thin.
They live as far east as Ohio and as far west as Montana and Arizona. They extend as far north as central Alberta and Saskatchewan and are as far south as the Texas coast.
Chipmunk vs Squirrel: Fun Facts
Chipmunk vs squirrel
- Chipmunks are able to collect up to 175 acorns in a day.
- A scurry is a group of chipmunks.
- An entrance to a chipmunk’s home, a burrow or den, can extend 20 feet (about 6 meters) long.
- The chipmunk’s ‘bedroom’ in the burrow is extremely clean and tidy.
- The average lifespan for a chipmunk is 3 years.
Golden-Mantled Ground Squirrel
- The golden-mantled ground squirrel hibernates typically from October and not emerging again until May.
- Golden-mantled ground squirrels prefer to live alone after leaving its mother and siblings.
- The squirrel rolls around in dust and dirt, and uses its claws and teeth for grooming its fur.
13-lined ground squirrel
- They are often called a leopard ground squirrel, squinney and striped gopher.
- They are not found in wooded areas
- They are found in the central United States and Canada, from southern Alberta, Manitoba and Saskatchewan to east central Arizona, central Ohio and the Texas Gulf Coast and also close to the Arizona-New Mexico border.
- 13-Lined ground squirrels are true hibernators. Their body temperatures decreases to right above freezing and their heart rate decreases from the usual 200 beats per minute to 20 bpm.
- The squirrels touch noses or lips upon greeting which makes it look like they are kissing.
Conclusion of Chipmunk vs Squirrel
Are you at the expert level at the difference between a chipmunk vs squirrel? If you have any tips or tricks regarding the identification of these squirrels, please leave a comment below or through the contact page. The squirrels in this article are ground-dwelling squirrels. If you would like to learn about other types of squirrels and where they live, take a look at the Ultimate Guide to Squirrel Nests.
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