Beauty Of Animals | The Beauty Of The Chipmunk | Description of Chipmunk : Chipmunks Tamias are easily recognized by the light and dark stripes on the back and head. They can be confused with some of the striped ground squirrels, but chipmunks are smaller, and have facial markings and five dark stripes on their backs, including a distinct, central line that extends forward onto the head. Ground squirrels do not have markings on the head.
The eastern chipmunk is a colourful and attractive rodent with bright russet on its hips, rump, and tail; black, grey, and white stripes on its back; brown, grey, and buff on its head; white underparts; and brown feet. The western chipmunk species are arrayed in shades of grey, brown, reddish, white, and buff and share a distinctive pattern of black, pale grey, and buff stripes, although in the Townsend’s chipmunk the colour contrasts of the stripes are masked by a warm brown overall wash. The red-tailed chipmunk is the most brightly coloured of the western species.
The eastern chipmunk is large (up to 125 g) with a relatively short tail (about one-third of the total length from its nose to the tip of its tail), whereas western chipmunks are smaller (about 55 g) with a relatively longer tail (nearly half the total length from its nose to the tip of its tail). The eastern chipmunk is between 20 and 30 cm long, and western species are 16 to 28 cm long.
Signs and sounds
Chipmunks are quite vocal. People walking in the woods do not always realize that they are hearing chipmunks, for some of the cries that chipmunks make are like bird chirps.
Biologists have not yet determined the meaning of all the chipmunk’s many calls. For example, when a chipmunk is startled, it runs quickly along the ground giving a rapid series of loud chips and squeaks. Perhaps this sudden burst of noise startles predators, helping the chipmunk to escape. Also, chipmunks frequently call with a high-pitched chip or chuck repeated over and over at intervals of one or two seconds. This scolding noise is often made by a chipmunk watching an intruder from a safe vantage point. Some scientists think that it may also be the mating call of the female chipmunk.
Habitat and habits
All species of chipmunks in Canada live in forested areas. Most of them live in burrows and gather food on the ground, generally in areas where there are enough rocks, bushes, fallen logs, and piles of brush to shelter them from predators as they scamper about. Immature forests and the edges of forests near clearings, streams, ravines, and logging roads provide ample cover. Stands of tall, mature trees with no plants on the shady forest floor are unsuitable.
Chipmunks are fun to watch. They charm campers and hikers by their small size, their boldness in search of food, and their constant busyness. They are not hard to approach or photograph. An encounter with a chipmunk often provides a child with a captivating first experience of a wild mammal in its natural setting.
Surprisingly, in animals so quick to befriend curious children and delight all ages, chipmunks are solitary animals. Each chipmunk has its own burrow and ignores its fellows except when conflicts arise or during mating or when females care for their young.
Nevertheless, chipmunks are not territorial in the conventional sense. They use home ranges that overlap broadly (sometimes completely) and trespass repeatedly near each other’s burrows. Home ranges vary from 0.04 to 1.26 ha; usually those of adults are larger than those of juveniles and those of males larger than those of females. Boundaries change continually to include seasonally available food sources, but most animals probably maintain approximately the same home range from season to season.
Chipmunks spend most of their time in the part of their home range that includes their burrow, which is called their dominance area. Between these smaller areas there is no overlap. Within them the resident chipmunk is dominant and trespassers avoid interactions with the rightful owner, fleeing immediately if an encounter occurs. The boundaries of dominance areas are more stable than those of home ranges.
Most chipmunks construct tunnels and chambers in the ground. Entrances are well hidden under rocks or tangled bushes. Less typical are those western species that spend a fair amount of their time in trees and sometimes even nest in tree cavities.
Naturalists have dug up only a few burrows, all excavated by eastern chipmunks. Most of these consisted of a single entrance leading to an unbranched tunnel that sloped gradually down to a depth of 45 to 85 cm and ended in a rounded nest chamber, about 15 cm in diameter. In this chamber, the chipmunk had built a nest using insulating materials such as grasses, shredded leaves, or the fluffy seed heads of certain plants. Seeds and nuts stored beneath the nest provided a handy food supply for the coldest part of the winter. In a few cases, biologists unearthed complex burrow systems up to 4 m long with tunnels that branched and led to side tunnels and accessory chambers. In neither type of burrow was evidence of a latrine, or toilet area, found.
Chipmunks are known to be hibernators, even in the southern parts of their range. Near the end of July, they begin to collect and store large quantities of seeds. By October, each chipmunk has accumulated enough seeds to enable it to survive the winter.
With the onset of winter in November, chipmunks disappear below ground. At present, it is not known exactly what happens when chipmunks retire to their burrows for the winter. One view is that they immediately go into a torpid state. (In this state, the body temperature, rate of breathing, and rate of heartbeat drop to very low levels, reducing the amount of energy required to maintain the chipmunk.) Periods of torpor last from one to eight days, and perhaps longer. Between periods of torpor, chipmunks wake up and consume part of their food supply. They have occasionally been seen above ground on warm winter days. A second view is that chipmunks do not actually hibernate until their food supply has been exhausted.
With the first warm days of March, chipmunks begin to emerge, sometimes burrowing up through a metre of snow.
In Canada, in most years, chipmunks have only one breeding season and one litter, but in favourable years a small percentage of adult eastern chipmunks produces a second litter in the fall. In the southern United States, the production of two litters per year by both eastern and western chipmunks is not uncommon.
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