The eastern chipmunk

StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-118780476821297.jpg’, ”, ‘The eastern chipmunk – Tamias striatus is abundant throughout Illinois. This prolific little mammal is found across much of southeastern Canada and the eastern U.S. It is among the most common of North America’s 15 chipmunk species. While its natural habitat is in and around mature woodlands, like many other members of the squirrel family, the eastern chipmunk has adapted to human environments. It is common in many rural, suburban and even urban areas with plenty of woody parkland. This chipmunk is often confused with the 13-lined ground squirrel. The easiest way to tell them apart is to count the stripes; the eastern chipmunk has only five, and the other has—of course—13!‘);

This is one of our most common chipmunks, frequently found in parks and woody areas.

Although it is sometimes considered an unwelcome pest—particularly to lawn and garden enthusiasts—the prolific little eastern chipmunk is beneficial in its natural habitat. In woodlands, this chipmunk helps by burying seeds and aerating the soil. Eastern chipmunks are an important food source for predators such as owls, hawks, snakes, foxes and weasels.

To escape their many predators, these chipmunks rely on networks of underground tunnels into which they can flee when under attack. Snakes and weasels, unfortunately, are capable of pursuing them into tunnels. So they’ve adapted to heavy predation by raising multiple litters each year, much like other rodents.

Eastern chipmunks raise one litter of up to five young pups in the spring, and then a second litter in the late summer or fall. The pups remain in underground burrows until about six weeks of age. A few months after emerging from burrows, the pups set off on their own. They reach maturity within one year, and usually survive about three years—although some have survived as long as eight years.

These chipmunks are solitary most of the time. They defend territories of about 50 feet around their burrows, spending their days searching for seeds and nuts, some of which they store for the winter.

A 2004 study of the eastern chipmunk in our region caused a stir among scientists. It seems that during the last Ice Age, chipmunks living in Illinois and Wisconsin bucked the trend and decided to hang around and stick it out while most other animals moved south. Here, the eastern chipmunk seemed to have contentedly eked out a cold existence in small pockets of woodland. As the last Ice Age ended, Illinois and Wisconsin were repopulated by chipmunks that had stayed behind. Interestingly, the eastern chipmunks that are now found in nearby Indiana and Michigan show DNA that more closely matches those found in the southern U.S., which means they had migrated back.

from the Aug. 22-28, 2007, issue

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