By Gerry Bishop
What’s the cutest creature ever? Lots of people would vote for the chipmunk! Just a quick look at one brings on a big “aww www!” And watching these little furballs scamper here and there, gathering nuts and other goodies, is even better. When danger threatens, they stop and loudly call, chip-chip-chip. Best of all, you may be lucky enough to see one in your own backyard!
If you live near woods in the eastern half of the United States, this is the kind of chipmunk you might see.
Sometimes it’s hard to tell one kind of chipmunk from another. But the longish ears on this one are a sure giveaway. To see a long-eared chipmunk, though, you’d have to be in the mountains of California.
More than 20 kinds of chipmunks live in the western United States. But the least chipmunk is the one you’re most likely to spot. Why is it called the “least”? Because it’s the smallest of all chipmunks, weighing no more than a hen’s egg. The eastern chipmunk is the largest and can weigh three times as much.
When kids in Russia spot chipmunks in their backyards, they’re sure to be Siberian chipmunks. These chipmunks have extra-long tails and are the only ones that live outside North America.
WHAT'S ON THE MENU?
Chipmunks eat just about anything. Nuts and seeds are their favorite foods, but they also go for fruit, worms, mushrooms, insects, small frogs, and even bird eggs.
The eastern chipmunk above left is chowing down on a nut while hanging on to a tree with just its rear claws.
WATCH A CHIPMUNK EAT A STRAWBERRY!
Chipmunks don’t always eat their food as soon as they find it. Often, they take it back to their underground burrows and store it for eating later. And how does a chipmunk carry its food? By stuffing it inside two very stretchy cheek pouches. When both are full, they can be three times the size of the chipmunk’s head!
SNOOZING THROUGH WINTER
In the fall, chipmunks retreat to their burrows and go into a deep sleep. Their body temperature drops, and their breathing slows way, way down. But every few days they wake up and eat some of their stored food.
This lodgepole chipmunk (top right photo) nurses her babies inside a safe burrow. Soon she’ll lead the little ones outside for the first time. Before she does, she’ll take a careful look around—just as the eastern chipmunk (bottom right photo) is doing. A hungry hawk or fox could be waiting nearby for a chipmunk meal. But maybe Mom will spot something far more friendly watching her. Maybe it will be YOU.
"Chipmunks" originally appeared in the October 2017 issue of Ranger Rick magazine. Click here for a close-up view of the photos.