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All Things Chipmunk.
Information and pictures on Chipmunks.
Educational, Zoological, and Classification info.

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Chipmunk is the common name for any small squirrel-like rodent species of the genus Tamias in the family Sciuridae.

chipmunk
1841, from Algonquian, probably Ojibwa ajidamoo (in the Ottawa dialectajidamoonh "red squirrel," lit. "one who descends trees headlong" (containing ajid- "upside down"), probably infl. by Eng.  chip and mink

General appearance
Chipmunks are easily recognized by the light and dark stripes on the back and head. They can be confused with some of the striped ground squirrels, but Chipmunks chipmunks are smaller, bear facial markings, and have five dark stripes on their backs, including a distinct, central line that extends forward onto the head. Ground squirrels do not have markings on the head.

The eastern chipmunk is a colorful and attractive rodent with bright russet on its hips, rump, and tail; black, grey, and white stripes on its back; brown, grey, and buff on its head; white under parts; and brown feet. The western chipmunk species are arrayed in shades of grey, brown, reddish, white, and buff and share a distinctive pattern of black, pale grey, and buff stripes, although in the Townsend's chipmunk the color contrasts of the stripes are masked by a warm brown overall wash. The red-tailed chipmunk is the most brightly colored of the western species.

The eastern chipmunk is large (up to 125g) with a relatively short tail (about one-third of the total length from its nose to the tip of its tail), whereas western chipmunks are smaller (about 55g) with a relatively longer tail (nearly half the total length from its nose to the tip of its tail). The eastern chipmunk is between 20 and 30cm long, and western species are 16 to 28cm long.

Chipmunks are quite vocal. People walking in the woods do not always realize that they are hearing chipmunks, for some of the cries that chipmunks make are like bird chirps.

Biologists have not yet determined the meaning of all the chipmunk's many calls. For example, when a chipmunk is startled, it runs quickly along the Chipmunksground giving a rapid series of loud chips and squeaks. Perhaps this sudden burst of noise startles predators, helping the chipmunk to escape. Also, chipmunks frequently call with a high-pitched "chip" or "chuck" repeated over and over at intervals of one or two seconds. This scolding noise is often made by a chipmunk watching an intruder from a safe vantage point. Some scientists think that it may also be the mating call of the female chipmunk.

Etymology and taxonomy
Tamias is Latin for "storer," a reference to the animals' habit of collecting and storing food for winter use. Twenty-five species belong to this family, with one species in northeastern Asia, one in eastern North America, and the rest native to western North America.

The name originally may have been spelled "chitmunk" (from the Odawa word jidmoonh, meaning "red squirrel"; c.f. Ojibwe, ajidamoo). However, the earliest form cited in the Oxford English Dictionary (from 1842) is "chipmonk". Other early forms include "chipmuck" and "chipminck", and in the 1830s they were also referred to as "chip squirrels," possibly in reference to the sound they make. They are also called "striped squirrels" or "ground squirrels," though the name "ground squirrel" more often refers to the genus Spermophilus. Tamias and Spermophilus are only two of the 13 genera of ground-living sciurids.

Ecology and life history
Eastern chipmunks mate in early spring and again in early summer, producing litters of four or five young twice each year. Western chipmunks only breed once a year. The young emerge from the burrow after about six weeks and strike out on their own within the next two weeks.

Though they are commonly depicted with their paws up to the mouth, eating peanuts, or more famously their cheeks bulging out on either side, chipmunks eat a variety of foods. Their omnivorous diet consists of grain, nuts, birds' eggs, fungi, worms, and insects. At the beginning of autumn, many species of chipmunk begin to stockpile these goods in their burrows, for winter. Other species make multiple small caches of food. These two kinds of behavior are called larder hoarding and scatter hoarding. Larder hoarders usually live in their nests until spring.

These small squirrels fulfill several important functions in forest ecosystems. Their activities harvesting and hoarding tree seeds play a crucial role in seedling establishment. They consume many different kinds of fungi, including those involved in symbiotic mycorrhizal associations with trees, and are an important vector for dispersal of the spores of subterranean sporocarps (truffles) which have co-evolved with these and other mycophagous mammals and thus lost the ability to disperse their spores through the air.

Chipmunks play an important role as prey for various predatory mammals and birds, but are also opportunistic predators themselves, particularly with regard to bird eggs and nestlings. In Oregon, Mountain Bluebirds (Siala currucoides) have been observed energetically mobbing chipmunks that they see near their nest trees.

Chipmunks construct expansive burrows which can be more than 3.5 m in length with several well-concealed entrances. The sleeping quarters are kept extremely clean as shells and feces are stored in refuse tunnels.

If unmolested they often become bold enough to take food from the hands of humans. The temptation to pick up or pet any wild animal should be strictly avoided, however. While rabies is exceptionally rare (if not non-existent) in rodents, chipmunk bites can transmit virulent and dangerous bacterial infections.

Chipmunks
Fossil range: Early Miocene to Recent

Tamias rufus

Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Rodentia
Family: Sciuridae
Tribe: Marmotini
Genus: Tamias
Illiger, 1811

Species

  • Alpine Chipmunk, Tamias alpinus
  • Yellow-pine Chipmunk, Tamias amoenus
  • Buller's Chipmunk Tamias bulleri
  • Gray-footed Chipmunk, Tamias canipes
  • Gray-collared Chipmunk, Tamias cinereicollis
  • Cliff Chipmunk, Tamias dorsalis
  • Durango ChipmunkTamias durangae
  • Merriam's Chipmunk, Tamias merriami
  • Least Chipmunk, Tamias minimus
  • California Chipmunk, Tamias obscurus
  • Yellow-cheeked Chipmunk, Tamias ochrogenys
  • Palmer's Chipmunk, Tamias palmeri
  • Panamint Chipmunk, Tamias panamintinus
  • Long-eared Chipmunk, Tamias quadrimaculatus
  • Colorado Chipmunk, Tamias quadrivittatus
  • Red-tailed Chipmunk, Tamias ruficaudus
  • Hopi Chipmunk, Tamias rufus
  • Allen's Chipmunk, Tamias senex
  • Siberian Chipmunk, Tamias sibiricus
  • Siskiyou Chipmunk, Tamias siskiyou
  • Sonoma Chipmunk, Tamias sonomae
  • Lodgepole Chipmunk, Tamias speciosus
  • Eastern Chipmunk, Tamias striatus
  • Townsend's Chipmunk, Tamias townsendii
  • Uinta Chipmunk, Tamias umbrinus

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