By Susan Thurn,
Cable Natural History Museum
Walking down the sidewalk, I heard a rustle in the undergrowth of the flower garden. I smiled when out zipped one of the chipmunk family living in the yard. Its puffy cheeks looked almost as big as its body as it crossed my path and scurried down into its tiny hole. These lively critters pudgy cheeks, stripes, and bushy tails have made them famous even in Hollywood, and for good reason.
Chipmunks eat a variety of foods including seeds, nuts, fruit, berries, fungi, insects, worms, bird eggs and nestlings, small frogs and sometimes even small mice. They gather food in areas where they can hide from their predators, and then store their food into their cheek pouches to carry to their burrow. This mammal’s scientific genus name is appropriate - Tamias, which in Greek means "storer," a behavior that this animal does so well as they collect and store food for a “long winter’s night.” Chipmunks can climb trees to harvest acorns or hazelnuts, but prefer foraging on the ground. They often spend sunrise to sunset searching for and storing food, harvesting as much as a bushel of nuts in just a few days. In August, chipmunks begin stockpiling these tasty treats in their burrows in preparation of winter. Chipmunks hibernate, but instead of storing fat like bears, they occasionally feed on their cache of nuts and seeds.
Chipmunks dig burrows with entrance holes about two inches in diameter and more than thirty feet in length. The main entrance can be found near stump or rocks, well-concealed from predators. Additional secondary entrances can exist in open areas, all part of an interconnecting underground system. The passages are two or three feet below ground. Their sleeping quarters are filled with shredded leaves and kept extremely clean. Food storage areas are in the lower tunnels to keep “refrigerated,” and leftover food shells and feces are stored in refuse tunnels. Now that is a well-planned home!
Chipmunks are important in a forest ecosystem. Their harvesting and caching activities help re-seed plants. They distribute spores of different fungi as well. They also can bring enjoyment into our lives. I know many Museum friends who enjoy chipmunks at their feeders, watch them run over their toes, and even name the often friendly creatures. Please share your own chipmunk stories at the Museum’s Nature Watch blog, at cablemuseumnaturewatch.blogspot.com.
For over 42 years, the Museum has served as a guide and mentor to generations of visitors and residents interested in learning to better appreciate and care for the extraordinary natural resources of the region. The Museum invites you to visit its facility and new exhibit, On Lake Owen: The Art of Walter Bohl, in Cable at 13470 County Highway M. Also find us on the web at www.cablemuseum.org to learn more about our exhibits and programs. Post your own stories on the Nature Watch blog at cablemuseumnaturewatch.blogspot.com.