Genus Many (23+)
Ground Squirrel Basics
Ground squirrel belong to the Sciuridae family of rodents, which includes more than 24 species. This mostly refers to medium-sized animals like the California ground squirrel (Otospermophilus beecheyi). However, it also includes larger species such as marmots and tiny animals such as chipmunks. Commonly referred to as “groundhogs” or “gophers,” ground squirrels are notorious for rising upright on their hind legs when they need to evaluate potential threats.
Ground squirrels come in a wide range of sizes due to the large number of taxa and species. The biggest squirrels are marmots, which may weigh up to 18 pounds (8 kg). Chipmunks, on the other hand, may be as light as 0.1 lb., 50 g. Their bodies are long and thin, with small legs.
Their claws are large and powerful, enabling them to dig and climb in certain situations. The colours range from dark reddish brown to grey and olive green. The markings of a chipmunk, as well as the rows of dots and dappling on the fur of numerous animals, are called chevrons, and are examples of patterns. Their undersides are usually lighter in colour, such as white, light grey, or brown.
Ecology and Behavior
The majority of ground squirrels dwell in burrows under the earth, as their name indicates. They like wide fields or pastures, and as a result, they have become renowned as livestock pests in human-developed regions. The Barbary ground squirrel (Atlantoxerus getelus) inhabits rocky environments up to 4000 metres high and may be found from sea level to extremely high elevations.
Despite their grassland surroundings, ground squirrels are typically omnivores that devour a broad variety of foods. It is possible to add mushrooms and various fungi, as well as nuts, fruits, and seeds. They will sometimes devour bird or snake eggs, in addition to insects and various tiny creatures. Certain animals use cheek pouches to transport nourishment to their offspring or to preserve foodstuffs in their burrows for later consumption.
Although different species have different mating patterns, the majority of ground squirrels are sociable and have a close bond with their mother and child. Males may get aggressive towards rival males during the mating season as they compete for partners, which is usually in the spring.
Females give birth to roughly five to ten young after copulation, typically with numerous males, after three to four weeks of gestation. When such bald pups are born, they weigh very little, only 0.35 oz (10 g), but they are breastfed for around six weeks afterwards, during which point they grow fast before the next winter, especially in hibernating breeds.
Fun Facts about Ground Squirrel!
Ground squirrels, often known as gophers, share many traits with their arboreal counterparts, such as food storage and hibernation in cool climates.
Several species, such as members of the genus Xerus, which inhabit the savannas and deserts of Africa, as well as hibernating animals, possess cheek storage sacks. They are used to transporting foodstuffs to caches, which are usually found in their burrows. They may store the food here and retrieve it later, or share it with a partner or progeny. Ground squirrels do not need food storage to be full in the tropics, where animals remain active throughout the year and food availability is not too seasonal.
A Deep Sleep
During the winter, certain ground squirrel species may hibernate, particularly those that inhabit high latitudes and cooler climates. The 13-lined ground squirrel (Spermophilus tridecemlineatus) like related species of the genus Spermophilus, can lower their body temperature to as low as 1 degree above the temperature of their burrow. During this period, their hearts will beat extremely slowly, about 5 beats per minute (bpm) instead of the usual 200-250 bpm. They’ll also breathe incredibly slowly, taking just four breaths each minute.
During the winter, when food is limited, hibernation permits them to preserve their body’s energy resources. They have a far better chance of surviving the winter if they switch to an energy-efficient mode. These ground squirrels would be there to feast on next summer’s bounty if they put on enough fat over the summer months.