Siberian chipmunk is an adorable, small squirrel that is currently a very popular pet species. This rodent is identified by 5 dark and 4 light bands, stretching down its back. The overall coloration of its coat is yellow to brown. The chest and belly exhibit white colored fur. In spite of its small mouth, the animal has large, extensile pouches on tis cheeks, which expand as much as 3 times the size of its head.
Siberian chipmunk has a rather large natural range, stretching throughout northern Asia from central Russia to China, Korea, reaching Hokkaidō in northern Japan. In addition, the species occurs in Eastern Europe, mainly due to individuals that have escaped from captivity. Preferred habitat of this rodent is the forest floor with thick vegetative cover. Other suitable habitats include rocky outcroppings as well as house foundations and other human-made structures.
Habits and lifestyle
Siberian chipmunks are mainly solitary creatures, except for the winter months, when they are often found in groups, sharing a single burrow. Siberian chipmunks are diurnal animals, resting by night. During the winter, these rodents undergo periods of torpor. They usually store winter food supply, waking up from their torpor every few weeks to eat. These rodents bury their food supplies approximately 5 cm underground. They are very clean animals, spending a lot of their active time cleaning their bodies from the back to the tail. Bathing each other is a common activity in this species. Communication occurs through two types of vocalizations: when threatened, they emit a fast, bird-like "cheeping" sound that lasts 1.5 seconds; and a deep croaking sound. Although the purpose of the latter in unknown, it's likely to be used during the mating season. There is an unproven opinion that they may also use visual and scent cues.
Diet and nutrition
As omnivorous animals, Siberian chipmunks feed upon a wide variety of food, including seeds, grains, fungi, fruits and vegetables, supplementing this diet with occasional lizards, insects and small species of bird.
The reproductive system of this species is unknown, although chipmunks and squirrels and typically polygynandrous (promiscuous). Breeding starts in mid-April. Gestation period lasts for 28 - 35 days, yielding a litter of 3 - 8 young. Females usually produce single litter per year. However, those in Europe may yield another litter during the summer months. Males take no part in rearing their offspring that are born with closed eyes, which open only at 20 - 25 days old. At 5 weeks old, the young go out foraging for food with their mother. Weaning occurs at 7 weeks old. After a short while (usually, by 8 weeks old), young are independent. They disperse to find their own territories. Both males and females become mature at 9 months of age.
starts in mid-April, in Europe a second litter may be born during the summer months
pup, kit, kitten
The biggest threat to this species has to do with human activity. Population in Hokkaido Island (Japan) is likely to hybridize with feral continental individuals, which primarily concerns those in urban areas. On the other hand, chipmunks in Korea and the mainland Asia are imported as a popular pet species. And finally, Siberian chipmunks suffer from natural wildfires that occasionally take place in certain parts of their range.
According to IUCN, the Siberian chipmunk is relatively abundant and widespread throughout its range but no overall population estimate is available. Currently, this species is classified as Least Concern (LC) and its numbers remain stable.
On one hand, due to their 'burying and forgetting' habit, these rodents are key seed distributers of their range. Along with other chipmunks, they disperse spores of forest fungi. On the other hand, Siberian chipmunks are an important prey species for many of the local predators.
Fun facts for kids
- The extensile cheeks of this animal can expand up to 3 times the size of its head. They use their cheek pouches to store and carry food to their burrows, where they will hoard it.
- Dwellings of chipmunks are tunnels, which typically consist of two parts: one is intended for giving birth and the other serves as a sleeping spot. Before hibernation, they choose a part of the tunnel, where they store winter food supply to feed upon it during the hibernation period.
- Each of these animals collects up to 8lbs (3.6 kg) of food in its burrow.
- The comfortable burrows of Siberian chipmunks are lined with leaves and grasses, usually when the animals are going to produce offspring.
- Siberian chipmunks are otherwise called “hackees”. In addition, these rodents are occasionally nicknamed 'striped squirrels', 'chipping squirrels' and 'ground squirrels', although they actually aren't squirrels.
- The food storing behavior of chipmunks is called “larder hoarding” or “scatter hoarding”.