Golden-Mantled Ground Squirrel
The Golden-mantled ground squirrel is a small squirrel like a chipmunk, with grayish-brown fur and two white stripes edged with black stripes. These squirrels are often confused with Uinta chipmunks but this squirrel is easily distinguished because of its facial stripes. It is so-named because of the russet or golden brown mantle on its head and shoulders. The underside of its body is lighter than its back. Its front paws, head, face and chest are a coppery red and its eyes are encircled by whitish rings of fur.
The Golden-mantled ground squirrel occurs in the United States and Canada, from southwest Alberta and southeast British Colombia into the western part of the United States as far to the east as western Colorado and to southern California and northwestern New Mexico. It is found in coniferous forests as well as mixed coniferous-hardwood forests and is common in mountainous areas as far as the timberline, and in sagebrush areas and places with rocky meadows.
Habits and lifestyle
These squirrels are solitary animals, once they have spent their earlier days with their mother and siblings, though sometimes small clusters of adults are found. They are mostly diurnal, but during the summer they can be active any time of the day. Where the ground freezes or is snow covered, they will hibernate, beginning in late August to November, depending on the altitude where they live, ending in late March to May. When coming out of torpor, they spend most of their time rearranging nest material and moving about, occasionally coming up to the surface. Males and females have the same period of torpor annually, but females spend a much longer total time in hibernation than males, who have longer periods of continuous torpor, but their periods of being awake are longer.
dray, colony, scurry
Diet and nutrition
Golden-mantled ground squirrels are omnivorous. They like eating piñon nuts and various types of nuts, fruits, seeds, berries, blackberries, green plants, pinecones, mushrooms, acorns, corn, apples, flowers (including sunflowers), plant leaves, buds, insects, forbs, fungi, vertebrates, small mammals, small birds, birds’ eggs and carrion.
Golden-mantled ground squirrels are polygynous. Once they have come out of hibernation, the males compete with one another to establish their territorial boundaries. The territory of a male encompass that of several females, so when a female emerges from hibernation (2-3 weeks later than males), she will tend to mate with the male whose territory she is found in. The mating season lasts from March to May, gestation lasts for 26 to 33 days, and births are from May until early September, depending on the altitude. Most kits are born from May until late June. Females bear one to two litters each year, the size ranging from 2-8 kits, with an average of 5. The kits leave their natal burrow when they have grown to at least 25% of adult size, and are weaning takes place after the age of 29 days. Young are sexually mature when they reach 12 months old.
pup, kit, kitten
There are currently no significant threats to Golden-mantled ground squirrels.
The IUCN Red List and other sources do not provide the Golden-mantled ground squirrel total population size, however this species is locally abundant. Currently this species is classified as Least Concern (LC) and its numbers today remain stable.
Golden-mantled ground squirrels are primary consumers, and are eaten by many different secondary consumers, including various diurnal and nocturnal raptors, mammals and snakes. They may also regulate populations of lizards, birds, and other small mammals upon which it preys. Tunneling behavior can aerate the ground.
Fun facts for kids
- Golden-mantled ground squirrels most of the time are silent but they can vocalize, producing some expressive sounds, including a loud squeaking or chirping sound when alarmed. In combat with others of their species, they may make a growling sound.
- Golden-mantled ground squirrels store food inside their cheeks and use all four limbs to run at full speed.
- The scientific name for Golden-mantled ground squirrels is “Spermophilus lateralis”, the first word being Greek for “seed loving”.
- Like other squirrels, these squirrels dig in the ground to hide their food to eat later.
- The Golden-mantled ground squirrel cleans its fur by rolling in the dust, then combing itself using its teeth and claws.
- A Golden-mantled ground squirrel can stand in an upright position known as the “picket pin posture”, a position which helps them see long distances and to make better use of their hearing ability.