Eastern Chipmunk

Tamias striatus
Family

Sciuridae (squirrels) in the order Rodentia

Description

The eastern chipmunk is a small, ground-dwelling squirrel with conspicuous lengthwise stripes on the back, sides, and cheeks. The tail is well haired but not bushy, is somewhat flattened, and is shorter than the body. Background color of the upperparts is a grizzled reddish brown, grading into rusty on the rump and flanks. There are 5 dark brown to blackish lengthwise stripes from shoulders to rump with a buff to whitish band between the two stripes on each side. Belly and sides are buff to white. Tail is blackish above and rusty below with a narrow white or yellowish fringe. Chipmunks make a variety of calls, especially “chips” and a soft “cuck-cuck.” They make a trilling “chipp-r-r-r-r” when surprised.

Similar species: The thirteen-lined ground squirrel has 13 alternating light and dark stripes running along the back and sides from head to rump: The light stripes are yellowish to white, and the dark ones are blackish to reddish brown, broken by a series of light spots. It is declining and occurs in localized populations mostly in northwest Missouri.

Size

Total length: 8–12 inches; tail length: 2½–4½ inches; weight: 2–5 ounces.

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Eastern Chipmunk
Eastern Chipmunk

Eastern chipmunk.jpg

Eastern chipmunk in the snow
Eastern chipmunk

Eastern chipmunks.jpg

two Eastern chipmunks
Eastern chipmunks
Habitat and conservation

Chipmunks prefer timber borderland rather than deep forests. They select wooded banks, log heaps, stone piles, broken rocky ridges or rubbish heaps as sites for their tunnels and nest chambers. Occasionally they live around city homes and farmhouses, where they live in shrubbery, stone walls and old outbuildings.

Foods

The first part of the scientific name, Tamias, is the Greek word for “a storer” and aptly describes the food-storing habit of this animal. Mainly eaten are nuts, seeds and berries, particularly hickory nuts, acorns, beechnuts, hazelnuts and walnuts, plus corn and wheat. Perishable foods such as mushrooms and many types of berries are relished but not stored. Occasionally chipmunks eat insects and their larvae, millipedes, earthworms, slugs, snails and other small animals.

image of Eastern Chipmunk Distribution Map
Distribution in Missouri

Although they range widely in Missouri, chipmunks are most common in the Ozarks.

Status

Common.

Life cycle

Breeding begins in spring when hibernation ends. Most young are born in April and May, and in July and August. Females have 1 or 2 litters a year. Gestation period is 31 days. Litters contain 1–8 young, but usually 4 or 5. The young start exploring aboveground when 5 or 6 weeks old. Different chipmunks hibernate more or less than others, with some becoming completely dormant in winter, some being active during mild periods and others being active all winter. By early March, hibernation ends.

Human connections

These beautiful and exquisite little mammals have a high aesthetic value to us because unlike most mammals, they can be easily observed in daylight. If chipmunks seem problematic, the most practical means of control is trapping and relocating the offending individuals.

Ecosystem connections

Their tunneling aerates the soil and checks rain and snow runoff. Their food habits influence the growth of certain plant species and act as a partial check on insect populations. Their bodies furnish food for many carnivorous animals.

Signs & Tracks

Front track:

  • ¾ inch long
  • 4 toes.

Hind track:

  • 1¼ inches long; but only 1/2 to 7/8 inch long when heel does not show
  • 5 toes
  • Back of heel often indistinct or not leaving a print.

Other notes:

  • Length between bounds is 6–12 inches.
  • Tracks in clusters of 4, with front feet positioned behind and between hind feet, and one front foot usually behind the other.
Illustration of eastern chipmunk tracks