Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Nature Guide: Eastern Chipmunk

No doubt you've seen a small squirrel-like rodent sitting upright or running with its tail straight up. That's an Eastern Chipmunk — and Princeton Landing, with its lush landscape, provides a perfect home. Our Nature Guide Jon Latimer reports on Tamias striatus.

"The Eastern Chipmunk is a member of the chipmunk genus, Tamias, which means "storer" in Greek, referring to its habit of storing food for use during winter. Striatus means "striped" in Latin. "Chipmunk" may come from their bird-like chipping call.

"Eastern Chipmunks are often seen in trees but live mostly on the ground. They are reddish brown with dark brown and light brown stripes along their backs, ending in a reddish rump and a black tail. They are active during the day, spending their time foraging for food. Chipmunks eat bulbs, seeds, fruits, nuts, green plants, insects and worms.

"A chipmunk's home range is usually less than 100 yards across. Threats from predators, including hawks, foxes and cats, keep them near their burrows, but in an emergency a chipmunk will hide in a downspout or under the foundation of a house until the danger passes.

"Chipmunks transport food in pouches in their cheeks and store it in their underground nests. These burrows have extensive tunnel systems and often have several entrances lined with leaves, rocks and sticks to make them hard to see. To further conceal its burrow, a chipmunk will carry the dirt it excavates in its cheek pouches to a different location and dump it.

"Chipmunks are solitary except during their mating seasons. They breed twice a year, from February to April and from June to August. After 31 days, females produce litters of 4 or 5 offspring. Young chipmunks first appear above ground when they are about two-thirds grown. During winter, chipmunks enter long periods of torpor but do not truly hibernate. You may see them sometimes in midwinter, but they soon return to their burrows to sleep until spring."

Photo by Gilles Gonthier