by Crystal Cockman
August 30, 2017
There’s a cute little animal that I’ve seen in some very different places – the chipmunk. I’ve seen them in the mountains of North Carolina while hiking along the Appalachian Trail, and I’ve seen them on the sidewalk in Chapel Hill on the UNC-Ch campus, and I’ve seen them in Colorado (a different species) while climbing Mount Elbert. These little guys seem to live in some unique places. I’ve never seen one in the Uwharries, but I have friends who have.
Eastern chipmunks (Tamius striatus) mainly inhabit deciduous forests and the edges of woodlands and urban parks throughout the eastern United States and southern Canada. They prefer locations with rocky areas, shrubs, or brush or log piles to provide cover. They get their name from the chipping sound they make.
They weigh 2-5 ounces. They have reddish brown fur with five dark brown stripes contrasting with light brown stripes on their back. There are light stripes above and below their eyes. They have two fewer teeth than other chipmunks. They have four toes on each of their front feet and five toes on each of their back feet.
Chipmunks have pouch like cheeks with skin that stretches so they can stuff food in their cheeks to carry to their burrow to store. Their underground burrows can be elaborate with extensive tunnel systems. They are territorial and do not like other chipmunks entering their territory. They are solitary animals except for mating season.
They are omnivorous, eating nuts, berries, worms, seeds, fruit, bird eggs, insects, mushrooms, and snails. Bobcats, hawks, raccoons, foxes, snakes, and domestic cats are predators of chipmunks. They do not store fat and do not hibernate, but spend much of winter in a state of torpor, waking up occasionally to feed on their stash.
The average lifespan of a chipmunk in the wild is 2-3 years, but they can live up to 8 years in captivity. It is listed as a species of least concern by the IUCN red list because it is very widespread, abundant, and there are no major threats. Keep your eye out for this little guy next time you’re in the woods. You never know where you might spot one.