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Chipmunks are small, striped rodents of the squirrel family. There are about 25 species, and all but one species of chipmunks are found in North America.
Chipmunks characteristically have large glossy eyes, small ears, and pudgy cheeks; they resemble squirrels in body form, but are quite smaller in size with a varied body length of between 2 and 6 inches. They also feature black and white stripes across their face, back and tail. The chipmunk has a bushy tail that is close to its body length at about 5 inches. Its body weight is about 4 ounces (1 pound).
The speedy critters have short legs and hind limbs, and the hind limbs are very strong to allow for swift movement. Chipmunks are known to have cheek pouches in which they carry lots of food to store back in their burrows. Mainly grayish to reddish-brown in color, some species sport a light and dark brown coloration with a straight stripe along their back.
Most chipmunks are usually found naturally in North America, from Canada to Mexico. They reside in the undergrowth of alpine forests and shrubby deserts. Sometimes they live in complex burrows complete with tunnels and chambers, and at other times, they build nests or inhabit bushes and logs. The Siberian chipmunk resides in North Asia, central Russia and japan.
In urban and suburban areas, the bushy-tailed rodent generally looks for areas with maximum cover, thus inhabiting small bushes, stumps, trees, shrubs, rocks, and logs. They can also be observed scampering around in open places such as parks, fields, fence lines, and hedges.
Chipmunks dig their extensive burrows in hidden spots, and a typical burrow depth is between 20 to 30 feet. They usually make 2 types of burrows – a shallow one for daytime shelter and quest; and a deeper one for safe refuge, food storage and hibernation, especially during the winter months. Chipmunks habitually do not go farther than one-third mile from their burrows at any time.
Chipmunks gather their food on the ground, favoring areas with underbrush to protect them from being preyed upon by predators like hawks, foxes, coyotes, weasels, and snakes. Most of this food gathering takes place during the day when they are most active, and the food is stored deep in the burrows. They stay hidden in their shelters on cold nights, but are active at both day and night in the warm months
They generally live a solitary life, except at spring when they mate. Territories are guarded with a shrill, repeated sound and body language when they feel threatened. They also make this sound during mating season. Chipmunks have been known to cause considerable damage to gardens and farm lands that contain bulbs, tubers, birdfeeders, and maple syrup lines.
Reproduction and Life Cycle
Chipmunks mate only twice a year, in early spring and again in early summer. The female gives birth to live young babies after a 30-day gestation period. A litter ranges from four to five young chipmunks, who are weaned from their mother after 6 weeks. They thereafter start venturing out of the burrow to forage for food. Some weeks after this, they are left to fend for themselves. They live up to 2 or 3 years in the wild.
Chipmunks are omnivores. Their diet consists mainly of nuts, berries, grain, fruit, roots, various fungi beechnuts and sunflower seeds. In the absence of these, chipmunks resort to small insects, invertebrates and baby bird. They store mainly seeds and nuts in their deep burrows.
Although chipmunks hibernate in winter, they do not store fat. Instead they slowly gnaw away at their summer store of seeds and nuts.
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