The eastern chipmunk (Tamias straitus) is a small, lively, ground-dwelling rodent found through all of Pennsylvania. The chipmunk is a member of the squirrel family. No summer is complete without a few chipmunks in our backyard. I have labeled them “mice with racing stripes.
Adult chipmunks are 8 to 10 inches long, including a 3 to 4 inch tail. The adults only weight between 2.3 to 4.4 ounces. The dense body fur is colored alike for both the males and females; reddish brown, sprinkled with black and white hairs. The most visible markings are the five blackish brown stripes on the back and sides.
A chipmunk is a graceful creature and just a joy to watch as they gather food. Many folks probably do not know that chipmunks do climb trees and gather nuts and fruits. They also have a rather varied diet of seeds, vegetables and insects such as snails, earthworms, millipedes, salamanders, small snakes and frogs. They also eat young mice and birds.
To see the pouch in the mouth of a chipmunk as it gathers sunflower seeds from our bird feeders are a sight to behold. Someone once counted 32 beechnuts in the pouch of one. The chipmunk is diurnal (active during the day). It will remain in its burrow during periods of hot weather; just like some of us humans tend to do.
Chipmunks dig tunnels with many chambers. They do not hibernate like woodchucks do. Their body functions do slow down in winter. However they do awaken and eat periodically. On sunny days in winter, they may leave their burrows for short periods of time.
Breeding takes place in March. Gestation takes about one month. Females bear 3 to 5 young from late April to mid May. Some females bear their young later, in July or even early August. Their habitat is open deciduous woods with plenty of stumps and logs. Chipmunks use the edges of such cover.
Each male chipmunk uses about ½ acre for its territory and it is fiercely defended against other adult males. With births in summer, each acre of cover is populated with 6 to 15 individuals.
Chipmunks are preyed upon by weasels, hawks, foxes, bobcats, house cats, raccoons and snakes. Longevity in the wild is 2- 3 years. Longest living chipmunk in the wild was recorded at 13 years of age. The eastern chipmunk is a pleasant addition to any property.
Weather update: As I finish this column on Monday, June 29th, we have had 6.9 inches of rain on 19 of the first 28 days; over 67% it has rained. Tough time for farmers to make hay and golf courses too. Williamsport area has received 7.06 of rain. Normal for June is 3.79 inches. All time record for rain in June is 1972 when 16.8 inches fell. That was the month and year of Tropical Storm Agnes.
Jim Collins is an outdoor writer for this newspaper. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org; or write to him at Outdoors With Jim Collins, 87 Windfall Road, Alba, PA 16910.