Chipmunks: Chubby-Cheeked Hoarders That Can Become Pests

Updated on November 15, 2017
Casey White profile image

Dorothy McKenney is a former newspaper reporter turned researcher. Her husband, Mike, is a professional landscape/nature photographer.

Preparing for a Long Winter

Chipmunks can gather enough food in just a few days to last them all through the winter months, but they tend to over-prepare and hoard much more food than is necessary.  As you can see, they carry the food back to their nest in their cheeks.
Chipmunks can gather enough food in just a few days to last them all through the winter months, but they tend to over-prepare and hoard much more food than is necessary. As you can see, they carry the food back to their nest in their cheeks. | Source

Interesting Facts About Chipmunks—Part One

  • Like all wild animals, chipmunks may bite, but they are not aggressive and will normally run from any perceived threat (like you). If cornered, directly handled, or feel threatened, they probably will bite or scratch trying to defend themselves. That being said, many people have chipmunks as pets.
  • The only species of chipmunk not native to North America is the Siberian chipmunk, which is native to Northern Asia. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the Siberian chipmunk lives in Asia and is expanding into parts of Europe.
  • The only species that is on the endangered list is the Palmer's chipmunk, which is found only in the Spring Mountains in Southwestern Nevada. The invasion of humans into their habitat has been identified as the probable cause of their decline (domestic cats kill many chipmunks).
  • The Buller's chipmunk, found only in parts of Mexico, is the only species listed as vulnerable, probably due to population decline and distribution fragmenting.

Late Summer and Early Fall Are Gathering Times

A tiny chipmunk is only up to about eight inches long (and that includes its tail), so it always has to be cautious of any predators that might be in the area.  They still know, however, that they need to gather food for the winter.
A tiny chipmunk is only up to about eight inches long (and that includes its tail), so it always has to be cautious of any predators that might be in the area. They still know, however, that they need to gather food for the winter. | Source

All of the photos of chipmunks in this article were taken by a talented friend of ours, professional photographer Larry Jernigan of Heber Springs, Arkansas, who always manages to capture (photographically) animals in their natural habitat and shares his work with us.

They Have Lots of Predators

It's probably going to take more effort than this to hide from the many predators a tiny chipmunk has - hawks, weasels, foxes, coyotes, raccoons, owls, bobcats, lynxes, dogs, cats and snakes, for example.
It's probably going to take more effort than this to hide from the many predators a tiny chipmunk has - hawks, weasels, foxes, coyotes, raccoons, owls, bobcats, lynxes, dogs, cats and snakes, for example. | Source

Interesting Facts About Chipmunks—Part Two

  • They are omnivores and eat both plant and animal-based food. Their diet usually consists of seeds, berries, nuts, fruit, fungi, and insects.
  • They may be small, but can be destructive due to their burrowing. When they burrow near a house's foundation, they can cause structural damage. In a garden, they dig holes looking for plant roots to eat, so many gardeners and homeowners find them to be major pests.
  • Their average lifespan in the wild is about 2-3 years.
  • They are very protective of their burrows and use a range of loud chirps to let others know about an "occupied" territory. They use those same sounds to warn their young of any dangers that might be close. Female chipmunks have a mating call for which they use their high-pitched, bird-like sounds.

Chipmunks are very active in the daytime during spring, summer and fall, and remain in their deep burrow systems during the winter, where they enter "torpor" (deep sleep and lower body temperature) interrupted only for periods of feeding.
Chipmunks are very active in the daytime during spring, summer and fall, and remain in their deep burrow systems during the winter, where they enter "torpor" (deep sleep and lower body temperature) interrupted only for periods of feeding. | Source

Interesting Facts About Chipmunks—Part Three

  • During breeding season, the male puts on a loud and extravagant show to impress the females by chattering loudly and gesturing with his bushy tail. When chipmunks are about to fight each other, they use those same gestures, as well as when they are warning other chipmunks of danger.
  • Chipmunks sexually mature very early.
  • The gestation period for all chipmunks is 31 days after which the mother gives birth to up to about eight offspring. Typically, there are 4-5 born in each litter.
  • Chipmunks can carry and spread diseases such as the plague, salmonella, and hantavirus, and for that reason, they can be considered dangerous.

Note: Plague is a bacterial infection that attacks the immune system, usually transmitted when you are bitten by fleas carried by the infected chipmunk. Salmonella is spread in the same manner. It causes severe gastrointestinal discomfort and joint pain. Hantavirus affects the lungs and is contracted through close contact with rodent urine or feces. Untreated, all three of these illnesses can result in death.

The Good and the Bad Habits of Chipmunks

Chipmunks, by storing and scattering seeds, promote the growth of various plants.  Unfortunately, they also prey upon young birds and bird eggs.
Chipmunks, by storing and scattering seeds, promote the growth of various plants. Unfortunately, they also prey upon young birds and bird eggs. | Source

List of the Chipmunk Species Found in North America

Chipmunks can be found almost anywhere there are trees. This is a list of the species that are native to North America.

  1. Allen's chipmunk (native to the western United States)
  2. Alpine chipmunk (native to high elevations of the Sierra Nevada of California)
  3. Buller's chipmunk (endemic to Mexico and listed as vulnerable)
  4. California chipmunk (found in Baja California; Mexico and southern California)
  5. Cliff chipmunk (found in the western United States and Mexico)
  6. Colorado chipmunk (endemic to Colorado, Utah, Arizona and New Mexico)
  7. Durango chipmunk (endemic to Mexico)
  8. Gray-collared chipmunk (endemic to Arizona and New Mexico)
  9. Gray-footed chipmunk (endemic to New Mexico and in the Sierra Diablo and Guadalupe Mountains in Texas)
  10. Hopi chipmunk (found in Colorado, Arizona and Utah)
  11. Least chipmunk (the smallest species - widespread across North America)
  12. Lodgepole chipmunk (found in California)
  13. Long-eared chipmunk (endemic to the central and northern Sierra Nevada of California and Nevada)
  14. Palmer's chipmunk (endangered - endemic to Nevada)
  15. Panamint chipmunk (endemic to desert mountain areas of southeast California and southwest Nevada)
  16. Merriam's chipmunk (found in central and southern California)
  17. Red-tailed chipmunk (found in Alberta and British Columbia, Canada; and also Montana, Idaho and Washington)
  18. Siskiyou chipmunk (endemic to northern California and central Oregon)
  19. Sonoma chipmunk (endemic to northwestern California)
  20. Townsend's chipmunk (found in the forests of the Pacific Northwest of North America, from British Columbia through western Washington and Oregon)
  21. Uinta chipmunk (found in the western parts of the United States)
  22. Yellow-cheeked chipmunk (endemic to areas near the coast of northern California)
  23. Yellow-pine chipmunk (found in western North America: parts of Canada and the United States)

Sometimes It Takes Teamwork to Avoid Predators

Chipmunks are solitary creatures except in the spring and summer when mating occurs.  They do, however, watch out for each other and notify others of impending dangers by making different sounds.
Chipmunks are solitary creatures except in the spring and summer when mating occurs. They do, however, watch out for each other and notify others of impending dangers by making different sounds. | Source

"Did You Hear That?"

The ideal home for a chipmunk is a deciduous forest where they can find plenty of ground cover like logs, trees, stumps, shrubs and rocks.  They also can be found in other areas providing sufficient cover such as urban parks, fence lines or hedges.
The ideal home for a chipmunk is a deciduous forest where they can find plenty of ground cover like logs, trees, stumps, shrubs and rocks. They also can be found in other areas providing sufficient cover such as urban parks, fence lines or hedges. | Source

Questions & Answers

    © 2017 Mike and Dorothy McKenney

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      • DDE profile image

        Devika Primić 5 months ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

        I like chipmunks so adorable! You informed me in detail and nature is amazing!

      • Casey White profile image
        Author

        Mike and Dorothy McKenney 5 months ago from United States

        Thanks Liz! I have known Larry Jernigan for about 40 some years and have always admired his photography.

      • Liztalton profile image

        Liztalton 5 months ago from Washington

        Very informative article! The photography you have is beautiful.

      • Casey White profile image
        Author

        Mike and Dorothy McKenney 5 months ago from United States

        Very cute... why didn't I think of that?

      • JP Silva profile image

        Silva 5 months ago from Los Angeles

        Wow! Everything you want to know about chipmunks in a “nutshell”!

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