On another page, we write about Golden Mantled ground squirrels, and how they are often mistaken for Chipmunks. The dead giveaway is the stripe on the face – stripes run through the eye in a Chipmunk. So it’s easy to tell them apart.
But there are two Chipmunks in K-Country, the Least and the Yellow Pine, and they are virtually identical; it takes smarter people than us to tell them apart (and even they have trouble). Yellow Pine’s are about 10% bigger, are more yellow and less grey (you can see grey tinges in some of these photos, but not in others), and also have brighter colours — but none of that is too helpful when they’re not side-by-side. They like slightly different habitats; in most of K-Country, Yellow Pines are usually at lower elevations in dry pine forests, while Leasts prefer moister forests closer to treeline, but that swaps the farther north you go. We just generally assume that all the chipmunks we see are Leasts, but we could be wrong. We don’t think they care.
We have been fans of chipmunks since we were kids and chipmunks were bold enough to sit beside you and eat peanuts. Since peanuts are not native to K-Country, you’ll find them eating seeds, especially anything coming from a fruit or berry (and they eat fruits and berries, too). They gather these and store them, though not for hibernation, but as a reliable food source for when they wake up after hibernation. When Chipmunks find food, they stuff their cheek pouches full of it, and carry it home or to a storage place. They often build several small food storage caches in their territory.
“Home” to a Chipmunk is usually a burrow, the bottom of which has a huge seed pile, and the top is just a little grassy nest. The main chamber is often 15 cm across, and will have a couple of tunnels that radiate outwards up to 1.5 m. Entrances are concealed under logs or rocks, and in all of our years of Chipmunk watching, we’ve never been able to find an actual entrance. While agile and readily capable of climbing trees, they are ground dwellers, but do build temporary nests in trees, especially woodpecker holes. They sort-of hibernate, going into a state of torpor with a body temperature of 5° C when it’s cold outside, and the outside air temperature controls at what interval they wake up, snacking on their stored food if they do.
Very similar to ground squirrels, they mate immediately after awaking from hibernation, with 3-7 pups born in mid-May, appearing fully weaned in early July. They only live about 5 years, and don’t start breeding until the 2nd year.
They are predated by most anything on 4 legs smaller than a cougar and lots of different birds, too, and stay alive by being fairly well camouflaged (at least in summer), fast and agile. Interestingly, their squeaks include frequencies we can’t hear but dogs can. We have seen chipmunks face off against dogs, but generally, they just race away from anything they see, including red squirrels.
Meet some of the other Critters of Kananaskis Country here!