The Sciuridae family includes both ground squirrels and chipmunks as members of the same species. They are not the same just because they are connected in this way, though. In actuality, there are a number of salient characteristics that you may use to distinguish between them and learn more about each one of them.
All of these significant variances, including their morphological variations, habitat preferences, and more, will be covered in this article. A ground squirrel or a chipmunk should be easy to recognize, and you should be able to recognize some of their distinctive characteristics. Let’s start learning about these two rodents right away!
The Main Differences Between Ground Squirrel vs Chipmunk
The Sciuridae family includes chipmunks and ground squirrels (squirrels). In reality, chipmunks belong to the ground squirrel tribe (Marmotini). This tribe is made up of six different genera.
The genus Tamias is one of them. A member of this genus is the chipmunk. The remaining five genera are made up of distinct species of ground squirrels from chipmunks.
Medium-sized ground squirrels are often what people mean when they use the phrase “ground squirrels.” Prairie dogs are the more precise names for large ground squirrels. These medium-sized ground squirrels’ and chipmunks’ main distinctions include the following:
Ground Squirrel vs Chipmunk: Size and Weight
The general size and weight of ground squirrels and chipmunks are two important distinguishing characteristics. When compared to chipmunks, ground squirrels are substantially bigger in both length and weight. Now let’s get into more depth about these numbers.
When their tails are included, ground squirrels can grow to a maximum length of 20 inches, compared to the 3 to 8 inches of chipmunks. Given their longer lengths, ground squirrels weigh far more than chipmunks, which typically weigh one pound or less.
Ground Squirrels and Chipmunks Have Different Habitats
26 different species of chipmunks exist. There are 25 of them in North America. The Siberian Chipmunk is the name of the 26th species, which is located in Siberia. Most North American chipmunks live in the continent’s woodlands.
Compared to chipmunks, ground squirrels are more prevalent. Many places, including North Central America, Canada, the mountains of western America, alpine meadows, northern Mexico, western Mexico, the deserts of southwest America, northern Africa, California, Washington, the African woodlands, South Africa, Kazakhstan, Russia, and the Arctic, are home to them.
Most of these ground squirrels reside in forested slopes, fields, and rocky outcrops, as opposed to chipmunks, who prefer woods. Although chipmunks are more adept tree climbers than ground squirrels (source). They do, however, frequently dwell underground in burrows, much like ground squirrels.
Ground Squirrel vs Chipmunk: Appearance
The emergence of ground squirrels and chipmunks is another distinction. Even though these two rodents can have quite similar appearances, especially because they belong to the same family, there are some important distinctions to note.
For instance, compared to chipmunk ears, the ears of ground squirrels are smaller overall and located closer to the head. Chipmunk tails are substantially shorter and not quite as fluffy as ground squirrel tails, which are likewise long and bushy.
The existence of striping or stripes on the body is another distinction that could be apparent but might not necessarily apply. While ground squirrels occasionally have stripes, chipmunks always have them and are distinguished by them on their faces and backs. In actuality, the majority of ground squirrels have a uniform brown or gray coloration.
Stripes: The appearance of the stripes also varies. For instance, the eastern chipmunk has seven stripes on its back. The head is not covered by these stripes. There are 13 alternating stripes on the back of the thirteen-lined ground squirrel. Also, they get to the skull.
Ground squirrels vary in terms of the color of their pelage, which is the outer layer of their coat. Their coats come in a variety of hues, including black, tawny, reddish brown, olive gray, and brown. Depending on the species you are dealing with, these hues will vary. There isn’t much variation in the colors of chipmunks.
Ears – Chipmunks also have round ears that stand erect. On the other hand, ground squirrels have smaller, less protruding ears.
Cheek Pouches – If you’ve ever watched a squirrel or a chipmunk eat, you’ve probably noticed how their little cheeks swell up with food.
Chipmunks and ground squirrels have chambers in their cheeks where they may temporarily store food while they look for more.
Are Chipmunks Smarter Than Ground Squirrels?
To determine the degree of intellect in diverse organisms, studies have been done. These investigations included those that tested the savviness of squirrels and chipmunks.
Some of these investigations demonstrate the intelligence and smarts of both species. But more research has shown that a chipmunk is smarter than a ground squirrel, or any type of squirrel for that matter. I attentively observed their conduct and formed this observation.
According to the study, chipmunk tunnels beneath the earth contained sophisticated systems, which suggested a high IQ. The investigations also revealed that these animals had a convoluted communication system, with several cries having distinct meanings.
Chipmunks and Ground Squirrels Have Different Habits & Lifestyles
The lifestyle that ground squirrels and chipmunks pursue is another distinction between the two species. This covers hibernation patterns, predator defensive strategies, and eating habits.
Ground squirrels and chipmunks both frequently hibernate. But unlike ground squirrels, who often hibernate for several months, chipmunks typically only hibernate for a few days at a time.
Both varieties are omnivorous and will eat both plant and animal stuff for food. They have also been identified as cannibals. Cannibalism, however, typically happens among ground squirrels because of territorial fights, food, and females (source). The evidence for cannibalism in chipmunks is insufficient.
Defense – Some ground squirrels, like the California ground squirrel, are well-prepared to fend off predators like rattlesnakes. This is due to the fact that these ground squirrels frequently attack rattlesnakes despite being resistant to their poison. Unfortunately, young ground squirrels do not have the antidote needed to counteract the poison of a rattlesnake.
On the other hand, snakes regularly prey on chipmunks since they lack the essential protection to repel these predators. Both species employ a range of noises, including warning cries, to communicate with one another. These noises and warning cries, nevertheless, differ greatly between species and genera.
Noises and chatter – Chipmunks often make low-pitched noises. Their vocalizations include clucking, twittering, and chipping. Depending on whether they are made in reaction to a predator or to communicate with their conspecifics, these sounds change.
In contrast to chipmunks, ground squirrels use whistles, chirps, and chatters (California ground squirrels), chirps, and churs (Richardson’s ground squirrels), and chatters, whistles, and chats (Richardson’s ground squirrels) (Wyoming ground squirrels).
Offspring – Both species typically give birth in the spring, and reports of abandoned or orphaned young chipmunks usually begin around April and May.
For people, ground squirrels typically have a negative economic impact. For instance, the Wyoming ground squirrel harbors fleas and aids in the spread of the bubonic plague and the Colorado tick fever virus (source). They are also regarded as pests in agriculture.
Do Squirrels Kill Chipmunks?
It is well known that squirrels are opportunistic omnivores. This means that they will take advantage of every opportunity to eat meat from whatever food source they may locate.
There are several predators of chipmunks. Foxes, coyotes, bobcats, raccoons, snakes, dogs, and cats are some of these predators. Chipmunks are also consumed by birds like owls and hawks. Red squirrels are also included on the list of predators. They could kill chipmunks to use as food and eat the carcass.
Territorial behavior is also a trait of squirrels. Even if the intruders are other squirrels, they do not appreciate it when people enter their areas. If chipmunks enter their territory, squirrels may charge at them and kill them. When food is scarce, they may sometimes murder chipmunks for it.
Ground Squirrel vs Chipmunk: Lifespan
The lifespans of ground squirrels and chipmunks may also be different. According to several studies, ground squirrels live far longer than chipmunks do, which is probably due to their general mobility and agility. Let’s expand on what that implies.
Although there are always exceptions, chipmunks typically live 2 to 5 years in the wild and ground squirrels often live 5 to 10 years. This is probably because ground squirrels and chipmunks are both common food for many predators and because ground squirrels are more nimble than chipmunks.
Chipmunks frequently can’t get to safety in time, unlike ground squirrels, who can climb trees and scamper away quickly.
Can Squirrels Mate With Chipmunks?
There are many of myths concerning chipmunks and squirrels mating. Despite the fact that chipmunks and squirrels are distantly related, there have never been any instances of their marrying.
Although it may be challenging for humans to tell the difference between a chipmunk and a squirrel, these animals are aware of the distinctions and know that they do not belong together. It’s possible that both of them have identical mating customs.
Squirrels and chipmunks do not mating with one another, though. Both chipmunks and squirrels mate in the spring, but they only pair up with other members of their own species. The females of the two species give birth to roughly six young after the gestation phase, which lasts for about a month.
Are Chipmunks And Squirrels The Same?
Despite having a similar appearance, chipmunks and squirrels are not the same species. The two species’ common genomes account for their similarity. To tell one animal species from the other, one needs understand the differences between the two.
Squirrels and chipmunks are related members of the same rodent family. They seem quite similar to one another because of this. Furthermore, their behavioral routines are similarly comparable. The eastern chipmunk and 13-lined ground squirrel share the greatest physical characteristics.
Their physical types and hues are comparable. The eastern chipmunk and 13-lined ground squirrel both have brown, reddish-brown, or grayish-brown hairy coats. These animals may be distinguished from one another based on the presence and design of the stripes on their heads.
A ground squirrel with 13 thin, alternating-colored stripes is known as a “13-lined ground squirrel.” There are seven dark brown stripes and six tan stripes. The dark brown stripes have tan specks on them that give them a dotted look.
Chipmunks, on the other hand, have five stripes that are widely separated and alternate between brown and tan. A ground squirrel and a chipmunk may be difficult to tell from one another, but tree squirrels, their third near relative, may be identified by their long, bushy tails.
A chipmunk’s tail is bushier and raised while running. A ground squirrel’s tail, on the other hand, is more streamlined and lowered to the ground as it goes.
Chipmunks have upright, rounded ears. The ears of ground squirrels, on the other hand, are so short that they adhere to their heads.
These rodents’ habitats can be used to distinguish between the two species. Squirrel species have varied environment preferences. While ground squirrels prefer to dwell below ground, tree and gray squirrels prefer to reside in trees.
To build a home for themselves and their family, ground squirrels and chipmunks dig tunnels in the earth. For the two animals, the location of the burrows might vary.
Chipmunks favor woody places and woods. They can also be found in yards with plenty of trees and plants. In contrast, ground squirrels favor yards, golf courses, pastures, cemeteries, and other grassy environments.
Many people also believe that ground squirrels and chipmunks also hibernate throughout the winter. That is untrue. Chipmunks do not hibernate throughout the winter months, unlike ground squirrels.
For chipmunks, the hibernation process is not genuine. They do, however, sleep more in the winter than in other times of the year. Ground squirrels and chipmunks are active during the day. Additionally, they gather food for wintertime hibernation. Nearly same foods are consumed by ground squirrels and chipmunks.
Squirrels and chipmunks both like eating nuts and seeds. In contrast to chipmunks, which consume seeds, berries, and nuts, ground squirrels consume both seeds and plant matter. Additionally, omnivores include ground squirrels and chipmunks. For this reason, they occasionally consume small animals and insects as well.