Here’s how to tell a ground squirrel from a chipmunk

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Rodent cousins

Some different animals look a lot alike. An example is the golden-mantled ground squirrel and the least chipmunk.

They are both small, furry critters you may see darting through the woods during a walk. So how can you tell them apart?

One of the easiest ways to identify them is that golden-mantled ground squirrels don’t have stripes on the sides of their heads like chipmunks. Both have black and white stripes on their backs, which often leads to the confusion.

Golden-mantled ground squirrels are bigger, but not by a lot, about 9 to 12 inches long compared to a chipmunk’s 7.5 to 8.5 inches. Ground squirrels are also a bit heavier and have a shorter tail.

Both animals eat similar foods: seeds, insects and fruits. Ground squirrels will also dine on bird eggs and even other dead animals.

Because they are small and there are lots of them, both animals are also a food source for coyotes, hawks, bears and foxes.

Golden-mantled ground squirrels hibernate in the winter, from October to about March. Chipmunks also hibernate, but they will store food to snack on throughout the winter when they wake up.

The next time you are out walking in the woods, see if you can tell whether the small rodent you see is a chipmunk or a ground squirrel. A pair of binoculars will help you get a close-up view without scaring the little fur balls away.

— Brett French, french@billingsgazette.com


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