Striped Chipmunk and His Cousins
News travels quickly through the Green Forest and over the Green Meadows, so it was not surprising that Striped Chipmunk heard all about the learning adventures Mother Nature was providing. The next morning, just as the daily session was beginning, Striped Chipmunk came hurrying up, quite out of breath.
“Well, well! See who’s here!” exclaimed Mother Nature. “What have you come for, Striped Chipmunk?”
“I’ve come to try to learn. Will you let me stay, Mother Nature?” replied Striped Chipmunk.
“Of course you may stay,” Mother Nature said heartily. “I am ever so glad you have come to join us, especially today, because this session is to be about you and your cousins. Now, Peter Rabbit, what are the differences between Striped Chipmunk and his cousins, the Tree Squirrels?”
Peter looked very hard at Striped Chipmunk as if he had never really seen him before. “He is smaller than they are,” began Peter. “In fact, he is the smallest Squirrel I know.” Peter paused.
Mother Nature nodded encouragingly. “Go on,” she said.
“He wears a striped coat,” continued Peter. “The stripes are black and yellowish-white and run along his sides and there is a black stripe running down the middle of his back. The rest of his coat is reddish-brown above and light underneath. His tail is rather thin and flat. I never see him in the trees, so I guess he can’t climb.”
“Oh, yes, actually I can,” interjected Striped Chipmunk. “I can climb if I want to, and I do sometimes, however I really prefer to be on the ground.”
“Thank you,” said Mother Nature, “go on Peter.”
“He seems to like old stone walls and rock piles,” continued Peter, “and he is one of the brightest, liveliest, merriest of four legged folks in the Green Forest.”
“Thank you, Peter,” said Striped Chipmunk softly.
“I never have been able to find his home though,” continued Peter. “That is one of his secrets. I do know it is in the ground. I guess this is all I know about him. I should say the chief difference between Striped Chipmunk and the Tree Squirrels is that he spends most all his time on the ground while the others live largely in the trees.”
“Nicely done, Peter,” said Mother Nature. “There are two very important differences which you have not mentioned. Striped Chipmunk has a big pocket on the inside of each cheek, while his cousins of the trees have no pockets at all.”
“Oh, of course,” Peter nodded in agreement. “I don’t see how I forget that. I’ve laughed so many times at Striped Chipmunk with those pockets stuffed with nuts or seeds until his head looked three times bigger than it does now. Those pockets must be very handy.”
“They are,” replied Striped Chipmunk. “I couldn’t get along without them. They save me a lot of running back and forth.”
“And the other great difference,” said Mother Nature, “is that Striped Chipmunk sleeps nearly all winter, just waking up occasionally to pop his head out on a bright day to see how the weather is. A great many folks call Striped Chipmunk a Ground Squirrel, when he is more properly called a Rock Squirrel because he likes stony places best. Supposing, Striped Chipmunk, you tell us where and how you make your home.”
“Sure, I make my home down in the ground,” replied Striped Chipmunk. “I dig a tunnel just big enough to run along comfortably. Down deep enough to be out of reach of Jack Frost I make a nice little bedroom with a bed of grass and leaves, and I make another little room for a storeroom in which to keep my supply of seeds and nuts. Sometimes I have more than one storeroom. Also I have some little side tunnels.”
“So why is it I never have been able to find the entrance to your tunnel?” asked Peter, as full of curiosity as ever.
“Because I have it hidden underneath the stone wall on the edge of the Old Orchard,” replied Striped Chipmunk.
“Even so, I would think that all the sand you must have taken out would give your secret away,” Peter said with great curiosity.
Striped Chipmunk chuckled happily. It was a throaty little chuckle, pleasant to hear. “I looked out for that,” he said. “There isn’t a grain of that sand around my doorway. I took it all out through another hole some distance away, a sort of back door, and then closed it up solidly. If you please, Mother Nature, if I am not a Ground Squirrel, who is?”
“Your cousin, Seek Seek the Spermophile, sometimes called Gopher Squirrel, who lives on the open plains of the West where there are no rocks or stones,” said Mother Nature. “He likes the flat, open country best. He is called Spermophile because that means seed eater, and he lives largely on seeds, especially on grain. Because of this he does a great deal of damage to crops and is often disliked by the farmers.
“Seek Seek’s family are the true Ground Squirrels. Please remember that they never should be called Gophers, for they are not Gophers. One of the smallest members of the family is just about your size, Striped Chipmunk, and he also wears stripes, only he has more of them than you have, and they are broken up into little dots. He is called the Thirteen-lined Spermophile. He has pockets in his cheeks just as you have, and he makes a home down in the ground very similar to yours. All the family do this, and all of them sleep through the winter. While they are great seed eaters they also eat a great many insects and worms.”
“Some members of the family are almost as big as Happy Jack the Gray Squirrel and have gray coats. They are called Gray Ground Squirrels and sometimes Gray Gophers. One of the largest of these is the California Ground Squirrel. He has a big, bushy tail, very like Happy Jack’s. He gets into so much mischief in the grain fields and in the orchards that he is quite as much disliked as is Jack Rabbit. This particular member of the family is quite as much at home among rocks and tree roots as in open ground. He climbs low trees for fruit and nuts and also prefers to stay on the ground. Now just remember that the Chipmunks are Rock Squirrels and their cousins the Spermophiles are Ground Squirrels.
“Now who of you has seen Timmy the Flying Squirrel lately?” asked Mother Nature with a twinkle in her eye.
“Not me,” said Peter Rabbit.
“I haven’t,” said Striped Chipmunk.
“Not me,” said Happy Jack.
“Me neither,” said Chatterer.
“I have,” spoke up Jumper the Hare. “I saw him last evening just after jolly, round, red Mr. Sun went to bed behind the Purple Hills and the Black Shadows came creeping through the Green Forest. My, I wish I could fly the way he can!”
Mother Nature shook her head. “Jumper,” she said, “when did you ever see Timmy actually fly?”
“Last night,” insisted Jumper.
“Actually, you didn’t,” Mother Nature said good naturedly. “You didn’t see him fly, for the very good reason that he cannot fly any more than you can. You saw him simply jump. Just remember that the only animals, or mammals, in this great land who can fly are the Bats. Timmy the Flying Squirrel simply jumps from the top of a tree and slides down on the air to the foot of another tree. When he is in the air he never moves his legs or arms, and he is always coming down, never going up, excepting for a little at the end of his jump, as would be the case if he could really fly. He hasn’t any wings.”
“When he’s flying, I mean jumping, he does look as if he had wings,” insisted Jumper.
“That is simply because I have given him a fold of skin between the front and hind leg on each side,” explained Mother Nature. “When he jumps he stretches his legs out flat, and that stretches out those two folds of skin until they look almost like wings. This is the reason he can sail so far when he jumps from a high place. You’ve seen a bird, after flapping its wings to get going, sail along with them outstretched and motionless. Timmy does the same thing, only he gets going by jumping. You may have noticed that he usually goes to the top of a tree before jumping; then he can sail down a wonderfully long distance. His tail helps him to keep his balance. If there is anything in the way, he can steer himself around it. When he reaches the tree he is jumping for he shoots up a little way and lands on the trunk not far above the ground. Then he scampers up that tree to do it all over again.”
“Then why don’t we ever see him?” inquired Striped Chipmunk.
“Because, when the rest of you squirrels are out and about, he is curled up in a little ball in his nest, fast asleep. Timmy likes the night, especially the early evening, and doesn’t like the light of day,” said Mother Nature.
“How big is he?” inquired Happy Jack.
“He is, if anything, a little smaller than Striped Chipmunk,” replied Mother Nature. “Way out in the Far West he grows a little bigger. His coat is a soft yellowish-brown above; beneath he is all white. His fur is wonderfully soft. He has very large, dark, soft eyes, especially suited for seeing at night. Then, he is very lively and dearly loves to play.”
“Does he eat nuts like his cousins?” asked Peter Rabbit.
“He certainly does,” replied Mother Nature. “Also he eats grubs and insects. He dearly loves a fat beetle. He likes meat when he can get it.”
“Where does he make his home?” Peter inquired.
“Usually in a hole in a tree,” said Mother Nature. “He is very fond of an old home of a Woodpecker. He makes a comfortable nest of bark lining, grass, and moss, or any other soft material he can find. Occasionally he builds an outside nest high up in a fork in the branches of a tree. He likes to get into old buildings.”
“Does he have many predators?” asked Happy Jack.
“The same predators the rest of you have,” replied Mother Nature. “The one he has most reason to fear is Hooty the Owl, and that is the one you have least reason to fear, because Hooty seldom hunts by day.”
“Does he sleep all winter?” piped up Striped Chipmunk.
“Not as you do,” said Mother Nature. “In very cold weather he sleeps and if he happens to be living where the weather does not get very cold, he is active all the year around. And so I guess this is enough about the Squirrel family.”
“Oh wait, you’ve forgotten Johnny Chuck,” Peter exclaimed.
Mother Nature laughed. “So I have,” she said. “That will never do. Johnny and his relatives, the Marmots, certainly cannot be overlooked. We will take them for our session tomorrow. Peter, you tell Johnny Chuck to come over here tomorrow morning to join us.”
- If you have chipmunks in your area take a moment to listen to their chatter and the varying tones. What messages are they sending? Are they content? Angry? Can you decipher their way of communicating?
- Look for the varying behaviors of chipmunks that may live in parks near city streets vs. chipmunks along the edge of forests. How are their behaviors the same? Are there any differences?
- Have you seen a “flying” squirrel? What time of day was it? Did you mistake it for a bat?
- Visit this LINK to see a photo and learn more about chipmunks from the Mass Audubon Society.
- *Have you seen a chipmunk on the ground or in a tree? If in a tree, how high up? Do you think the stripes and colors of a chipmunk hide this animal when amongst the grasses and bushes? How many entrances does a chipmunk have to their home? Do they live there year round?
Prompts with a * are inspired by or found in the Handbook of Nature Study written by Anna Botsford Comstock, a professor at Cornell University, focusing on flora & fauna in the Northeast in 1911.