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Chipmunks Scurrying Around To Prepare for Winter

Welcome fall! The animals in Will County are using this time to get ready for winter. Groundhogs, deer, squirrels and chipmunks all start eating more, bulking up, hiding food away and prepping their winter homes. Have you seen them busy at work?

Photo by Chris Cheng

At Isle a la Cache Museum you can always see lively chipmunks racing over the deck to their burrows.

Here’s some fun facts about chipmunks to keep in mind while you watch them scamper around your yard, school playground or forest preserve.

  • A legend told by Cherokee, Abenaki, Mohawk and other native storytellers explains how the brown squirrel got its stripes and became a chipmunk. Here’s a brief version: Brown Squirrel made a bet with Bear that Bear couldn’t stop the sun from rising. Of course, Brown Squirrel won, but he celebrated a little too much. Bear swiped his powerful claws at Brown Squirrel in anger. Although Brown Squirrel escaped with only scratches, he was left with white stripes down his back as a reminder that it is never good to brag too much. And that is how Brown Squirrel got his stripes and became Chipmunk.

  • Chipmunks are found almost exclusively in North America. You can find them from Canada to Mexico. There is one exception to the rule. The Siberian chipmunk lives in Asia.

  • Chipmunks have to pack a lot of living into a short life. The average lifespan in the wild is two to three years.

  • A chipmunk’s front and back paws don’t match. They have five toes on their front paws and four toes on their back paws.

  • Chipmunks like their space. They usually ignore each other, except in the spring. That’s mating season.

  • Chipmunks love the sun. Or rather, they’re diurnal and only come out during the day. Unlike nocturnal animals, their eyes don’t work well at night. Not wanting to be another animal's dinner, they stick to daylight hours, when their eyes work best.

  • Chipmunks eat a little of everything. Like us, they are omnivores. Chipmunks munch away at seeds, nuts, fruits and buds. They also eat grass, shoots, fungi, insects, small frogs, worms and eggs.

  • Need a master builder? Call a chipmunk! Their burrows are huge – sometimes over 11 feet long with many ways to get in and out. Most have “bedrooms” and “kitchens” and even “bathrooms.” Their sleeping chambers are called nests. They dig out larger spaces for their nests and make it comfortable with shredded leaves. Is your bedroom kept clean? To be a chipmunk, you’d need to keep it spick and span. Shells and feces are stored in refuse (aka garbage) tunnels. Food is kept in a separate chamber too.

  • Holy cheek pouches! Their huge and expandable cheeks let them move food to their burrows to store or eat. They can stretch to be 3 times larger than their heads. That would almost be like filling your cheeks with beach balls. How handy would that be?

  • One chipmunk can gather 165 acorns in a day! Like squirrels, they horde their food so they will have plenty to eat throughout winter. Sometimes they store all their acorns in one place, which is called larder hoarding. (Larder is an old-fashioned word for a room or cupboard to store food.) Others store their food in several smaller stashes, which is known as scatter hoarding.

  • To hibernate or not to hibernate? For a lot of winter, chipmunks are more resters than hibernaters. They spend most of their time in their burrows sleeping, but they wake every few days to feed on stored food. When chipmunks are in deep sleep, their heart rate slows down from 350 beats per minute to about 4 beats per minute. Try this: Put your hand over your heart and try to tap out 350 beats in one minute. Can you do it? Now tap your hand four times in one minute. That’s a big change! For comparison, your heart rate is probably about 80 beats per minute when sitting down. The other amazing thing is their temperature changes. Usually it’s about 94 degrees. That is close to your temperature, which is right around 98.6 degrees. During hibernation, their body temperature can drop as low as 40 degrees!

  • Chipmunks are the size of a bumblebee at birth. They are blind, have no hair and are helpless. Both the mom and dad take care of the babies.

  • A group of chipmunks is called a scurry. A male is called a buck, and a female is called a doe, just like deer! A baby chipmunk is called a kit, kitten or pup.


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