An Eastern chipmunk, native to Maryland. These little creatures help to disperse seeds and like to burrow in rocks and crevices. The chipmunk is a common ground squirrel, with 25 species found throughout North America and one in Asia. The name, “chipmunk,” is derived from the Ojibwe word, “Jidmoonh,” which means “red squirrel” and the chip-chip sound that this animal makes when excited.

Credit: Jan Barrow, Myersville, MD

The reddish-brown Eastern chipmunk (Tamias striatus) is the species native to Maryland. It has a white underside and the characteristic striped body all chipmunks have. This is the largest chipmunk, becoming nearly 10 inches long and weighing 4 – 5 ounces at maturity.

Chipmunks spend most of their time on the ground, preferring to live in rocky areas or where there are large logs lying on the ground. They are omnivores, eating seeds, nuts, fruit, plant parts, fungi, insects, worms, eggs, and small mammals like baby mice. The chipmunk is a noted “hoarder,” filling its mouth with food, and carrying it back to its burrow where it is stored for winter consumption. This burrow can be very extensive, with a number of tunnels. Chipmunks are very clean; they keep their main living space very tidy by dedicating a tunnel for their waste products. While chipmunks escape the cold of winter in their boroughs, they are not true hibernators. They sleep often during this time, but they will awaken to raid their pantry when they get hungry.

Eastern chipmunks mate twice a year, producing broods of four to five young at a time. The young will strike out on their own after about two months. Despite this high reproductive potential, chipmunk numbers are held in check by the many predators that feed on them; a chipmunk does not have a long lifespan in the wild.

Chipmunks have adapted well to humans, and they often live around our homes in rock fences, driveways, or near the patio. These little animals perform a very important role in dispersing seeds, such as acorns, as a result of their hoarding activity.

Article by FCFCDB member

Nature Notes for 10/12/2021