Merriam’s Chipmunk

Tamias merriami

Merriam’s Chipmunk
Photo: Dr. Lloyd Glenn Ingles © California Academy of Sciences

Chipmunks are small ground dwelling rodents. Their long tail is more than 40 percent of their total length. Their conspicuous stripes run from nose to rump; 5 darkly pigmented stripes alternate with four lightly pigmented ones. Most chipmunks live in the mountains, although a few species are coastal and the Least chipmunk (Eutamias minimus) occurs in the Great Basin. There are fifteen species found in California. Chipmunks are very busy from spring until early summer actively searching for food. The summer provides many kinds of nuts, seeds, and berries, much of which they store for the winter. They also dig up highly nutritious fungi. Like the related ground squirrel, chipmunks have cheek pouches in which to carry their food. Their forefeet are used to gather and dig for food. Some food is eaten as it is found, some taken to an underground burrow and some buried in the ground. The chipmunk digs a hole as deep as its head, empties its cheek pouches, fills the excavation and pats down the surface. In spring you may see many “pugholes” where buried food was retrieved. Chipmunks as well as squirrels have excellent sense of smell that they use to find their buried food. The burrows not only serve to store food, but it is also used as an escape shelter, for sleeping and raising young, and in higher altitudes, for hibernation. The burrows are usually hidden, unlike those of the ground squirrel or gopher. They may be under logs, in decaying stumps or under rocks. Chipmunks are the prey of snakes, hawks, weasels and other carnivores.

One of the larger species of California chipmunks. Colors are rather dull and drab with light grayish (not white) stripes; head is grayish (not brownish); light patch behind the ears are grayish. Tail is relatively long.
9 to11 inches; 2 1/4 to 2 ½ lbs
In wooded areas, generally above chaparral; climbs trees readily.
Lower western slopes of the Sierra Nevada; Coastal Ranges; south to Baja CA
Seeds of various forbs and shrubs; insects also.
Breeds early; usually a single litter annually, 3-5 young born in late April.
Voice a high wisk; a repeated low bock; also sputtering noises.
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