Chipmunk

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Least Chipmunk
Tamias minimus

Scientific classification

    Kingdom: Animalia
    Phylum: Chordata
    Class: Mammalia
    Order: Rodentia
    Suborder: Sciuromorpha
    Family: Sciuridae
    Tribe: Marmotin

The eastern (gray) chipmunk lives where oak trees abound-- which includes most of Minnesota, except for the southwest. The least chipmunk is found in coniferous forests of northern Minnesota. Both have facial stripes, not found on any other mammals. The lively animated chipmunk is easy to spot with nine alternating dark and light strips traveling down it's back, it is hard to miss, but very small and fast. Though some of the young ones on Deer Trail will often hold still long enough for Deerfeeder to pet them, and even pull thier tails, or lift them a bit. But usually only long enough to fill their little cheek pouches, and then they scamper on their way. Chipmunks are 4 to 7 inches long, the tail is 3-5 inches, and weigh 2 to 5 ounces. Frequently you will see them poking their heads out of the stump on cam #3. That is mainly during the summer. During the winter months from October to April they go underground. Chipmunks construct expansive burrows with several well-concealed 2" entrances. The sleeping quarters are kept extremely clean as shells and feces are stored in refuse tunnels.
Chipmunks are also at home in hollow logs and tree cavities. Deer Trail 2010 "Chipper" a favorite on the trail chose an underground home. Another Chipmonk chose a hollow log, and on the trail leading up to the house there was a family of chipmunks living in a huge fallen oak stump.

The entrance to the tunnel system is usually next to a solid object, such as a tree stump, large rock, or post. Secondary exits are often in open areas, there are no dirt piles around the hole. This makes them difficult to find. The chipmunk digs with its front paws, which have four sharp claws on each. The dirt is pushed to the surface, and then carried away in the animals cheeks. The tunnel system can be as long as thirty feet in length, with several interconnecting passages. Tunnels are normally two to three feet below ground, this depth varies with weather conditions.

Most burrows have several sleeping areas, as well as food storage areas. The sleeping area, or nest is enlarged and filled shredded leaves, grass and or feathers to make a comfortable bed. Food is normally stored in the lowest tunnels, to keep it cool, and fresh. Unlike the squirrel which hides nuts in various places, the chipmunk keeps all of its food hidden in its den underground. A chipmunk will continue to dig, for its entire life. Burrows have been found to be over thirty feet long. Although chipmunks hibernate, they do not store fat, or hibernate as bear & raccoon do, instead they slowly gnaw away at their summer bounty throughout the winter, waking to eat every two weeks or so. They may occasionally appear on the surface during the Winter, if the temputure rises, but will not stay long especially if there is snow on the ground.


Description

The chipmunk is a reddish brown on top, with white belly fur. It has one white stripe, boarded by two black stripes, starting at the side of the head and continuing to the rump. These strips are parallel, and on both sides of the body. It has two lighter white stripes down the back, which are much thinner than the side stripes. The tail is brown, with varied shades of black near the end. The chipmunks ears are small but prominent, and face forward. The eyes are small, and set on the sides of the head. The head tapers to a point at the mouth. The chipmunks mouth is small, but its cheeks can expand to three times its head size. The widest part of the body is around the shoulder area, about 1 1/2 inches across. There is very little difference between the male, and female, in both colors or weight. The average life span in the wild is 2 to 3 years but can live up to 7 years in the wild.
Chipmunks are called "striped squirrels", "chippers", "munks", or "ground squirrels", though the name "ground squirrel" usually refers to a different type of squirrel. The earliest name for the chipmunk cited in the Oxford English Dictionary (1842) is "chipmonk". Other early forms include "chipmuck" and "chipminck", and in the 1830s they were also referred to as "chip squirrels," possibly in reference to the sound they make.

Diet

Chipmunks generally gather food on the ground in areas with underbrush, rocks, and logs, where they can hide from predators like hawks, foxes, coyotes and weasels. They feed on insects, nuts, berries, seeds, fruit, hazel nuts, acorns, snails, grasses and grains which they stuff into their generous cheek pouches and carry to their burrow or nest to store. Chipmunks hibernate, but instead of storing fat, they periodically dip into their cache of nuts and seeds throughout the winter. Chipmunks play an important role as prey for various predatory mammals and birds, but are also opportunistic predators themselves, particularly with regard to bird eggs and nestlings, and even baby mice. Chipmunks love tomato juice, when tomatoes ripen, chipmunks will eat holes in the bottoms to get the juice.
Chipmunks are excellent climbers, they ascend trees to lay in the sun. They will climb a tree to harvest acorns, hickory nuts, and/or Hazel nuts, but they are not as agile in the trees as their squirrel cousins. The chipmunk prefers to forage on the ground when ever possible. The chipmunk spends almost the entire day foraging, and storing food. At times this is done from Sunrise to Sunset, and it is not unusual for them to harvest a bushel of nuts in a three day period.
The Chipmunk makes about thirty distinguishable sound combinations. These can be loud, shrill "chip-chip-chip" sounds to softer, and slower "chuck-chuck" sounds. This is combined with body gestures such as tail waving. A favorite is the chuck-chuck sound in the evening, when they all seem to join in together before and sometimes just after the sun sets.

Reproduction

Chipmunks shrill, repeated, birdlike chirp is usually made upon sensing a threat but is also thought to be used as a mating call by females. Chipmunks are solitary creatures and normally ignore one another except during the spring, when mating takes place. The Chipmunks breed once a year, and mate within 1020 days of emerging from hibernation in spring. Gestation is about 31 days,producing a litter of four or five young, there have been reports of litters as large as ten young. Both the male and female raise the young. The youngsters emerge from the burrow after about six weeks and then they begin to gather their own provisions for the winter ahead.

Many die in their first year, do to lack of food, or poor planning for the Winter. Young animals may come to the surface, without thinking about what predators may be waiting for them, and end up as dinner. The chipmunks primary enemies are foxes, Bob Cats, badgers. Birds such as Hawks, Eagles, and Owls, can take many on the run over open ground. House cats, are very successful hunters in Urban areas, and can be considered the Chipmunks worst enemies. Chipmunks are not always safe underground. While they may be able to hide from coyotes, bobcats, foxes, hawks and owls, weasels and snakes can get into the tunnel system and prey on the chipmunk.

The Chipmunks Hindprint tracks are about 1 1/4" long when heel shows, with 5 toes. The foreprints are smaller and rounder, with 4 toes showing. The Trail of a hopping animal has hindprints in front of foreprints. Sign remnants would be acorns, nuts, or other foods on the ground or a log.
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