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Least Chipmunk
Golden-mantled Squirrel

What's bugging you? Nov. 8, 2017

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So far I have been addressing questions I think you might have and might even "bug" you in your gardens. But today in a twist I am going to address one that "bugs" me a lot. This is the confusion of incorrectly identifying a certain ground squirrels as chipmunks that also are living in our area.

I am talking about either the Golden-mantled Squirrel, Citellus lateralis, or the Whitetail Antelope Squirrel, Ammospermophilus leucurus, and either the Colorado Chipmunk, Eutamias quadrivittatus, or the Least Chipmunk, Eutamias minimus.

The Colorado Chipmunk is relatively small, 7 to 9 inches from head to tail tip. It has several alternating black and white longitudinal stripes running down its back and on the sides of its face. Its ears are more pointed and upright than ground squirrels. They live in coniferous forests and on rocky slopes.

The Least Chipmunk is somewhat smaller than the Colorado Chipmunk and its dorsal body stripes extend all the way to the base of its tail. Also, the Colorado Chipmunk has white behind its ears and the Least Chipmunk has little to no white there. Its range can extend from the low sagebrush deserts to high mountains. Telling the two chipmunks apart can be challenging!

The golden-mantled squirrel is chipmunk-like in appearance but is larger than our chipmunk, 8 to 12 inches from head to tail tip. It has a white lateral stripe on each of its sides surrounded by black stripes. There are no head stripes and its ears and head are more rounded than a chipmunk's.

The Whitetail Antelope Squirrel is found in our more desert areas. They have a white underside to their tails and a fainter white body stripe with no accompanying black stripes.

Most people I encounter call these ground squirrels chipmunks, too, but they aren't! Both our two chipmunks and two ground squirrels burrow and nest in the ground near rocks, bushes or trees. Neither our chipmunks nor ground squirrels have real bushy tails. I have not seen these two ground squirrels in my yard or along the Surface Creek trail but have seen the Golden-mantled squirrel at Land's End along with one of these chipmunks.

Hopefully now you will be able to make correct identifications, differentiating between these two ground squirrels and chipmunks. Just remember that all chipmunks have head stripes and ground squirrels do not. And, chipmunks generally run with their tails held vertically while ground squirrels, not so much. I see chipmunks all the time in the Cedaredge area. They are a frequent visitor to my yard, often stealing bird seed from my feeders. These guys are fun to watch and I count them as worthwhile and entertaining additions to my landscape.

Jim Leser retired to Cedaredge in 2007 after a career with Texas A&M University Extension in entomology. He is a member of the Cedaredge Tree Board and a Colorado Master Gardener.

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