The Wild Files: It’s our Nature

By Chadd Cawson Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Chipmunks put the chip in chipper. These lively little members of the rodent family are striped and known for their bushy tails and large, dark eyes. Another special chipmunk feature is their two cheek pouches that are located between their cheek and jaw. These pouches stretch to store a significant amount of food. which in mass can equal the size of the rest of their body. They are omnivores, which means they mainly eat plant and vegetable matter, but will take whatever they can get in their cheeks, including worms, fruit, nuts, and seeds.

Like humans, chipmunks share all five senses and use these to find their food. Known for collecting and dispensing seeds, these animals play quite the role of stewards in nature, which is how they received their name — “chipmunk” is derived from “Tamias,” the Greek word for steward. According to Welcome Wildlife, their feces benefit their environment as it contains the seeds and fungal spores they eat, so they are constantly spreading myriad plant and tree seeds, as well as mycorrhiza, a fungus that is critical for increasing water and nutrient absorption in plants.

There are 24 different chipmunk species in North America. The largest species is the eastern chipmunk, standing 11 inches tall and weighing 125 grams. As its name suggests, the least chipmunk is the smallest of the species, ranging from 7.2 to 8.5 inches in height and weighing between 32 and 50 grams. While the least species is also popular in Western Canada, the chipmunk seen in the Columbia River Basin, located on the unceded territories of the Secwépemc and Ktunaxa Peoples and the land chosen as home by the Métis Peoples, is the yellow-pine chipmunk, which is midsize and weighs an average of 75 grams.

This widespread species can be found across British Columbia, Alberta and in states such California, Nevada, Montana, and Wyoming. They are known to live in upland forest, rocky and shrubby areas that are at low and mid-elevations and often make a burrow for their home. Some chipmunk burrows have main entrances that can extend up to 20 feet in length. Chipmunks have many predators, including hawks, snakes, weasels, bobcats, coyotes, racoons, and owls. Being prey to so many, a chipmunk has an average life span of two to three years in the wild but have been known to live up to nine years in captivity, as many people choose to care for the cute, chatty creatures as pets. Chipmunks are there for a good time, not a long time. They don’t look for life mates and, aside from mating season — which takes place in the spring— they live a solitary life.

Litter sweet

Like deer, male and female chipmunks are called bucks and does, while their babies are called pups. After the does’ gestation period of 31 days, a litter ranging from two to six chipmunks is born These sweet pups are only size of a bumblebee when they are born. Hairless and blind, these vulnerable pups grow up without their dad around and are reared and cared for by their mother for a period of four to six weeks, at which point they become more independent.

What’s all the chatter?

While the infamous stripeless trio of Alvin, Simon and Theodore do not accurately represent what a chipmunk looks like, the animals are known for their voices making sounds that sounds like chip-chips, chuck-chucks and trills. Their shrill chirp normally comes when they feel a threat is near. The chipmunk totem is a symbol of preparation and planning, something they put into practice in their short active lives and have also been associated to represent activity and energy.