Difference between Squirrel and Chipmunk

 

Key difference: Squirrels are a type of small or medium-sized rodents. This family includes tree squirrels, ground squirrels, chipmunks, marmots, flying squirrels, and prairie dogs. Chipmunks are a type of squirrels. Physically, chipmunks are much smaller than most other types of squirrels, almost half even. Also, chipmunks tend to have prominent black and white strips running from their head to their tail. They also have strips on the top of their heads, and white strips under their eyes.

 

Squirrels are a type of small or medium-sized rodents, belonging to Sciuridae family. This family includes tree squirrels, ground squirrels, chipmunks, marmots, flying squirrels, and prairie dogs. This explains why it is so easy to confuse a ‘squirrel’ and a chipmunk. Chipmunks are a type of squirrels. In fact, chipmunks make up about 25 of the 400 different species classified in the squirrel family.  However, there are certain differences that set chipmunks apart.

 

Squirrels are found everywhere. They are indigenous to the Americas, Eurasia, and Africa and they have been introduced to Australia. Chipmunks, on the other hand, can be mainly found in North America. A type of chipmunk, the Siberian chipmunk however is native to Asia.

 

Physically, chipmunks are much smaller than most other types of squirrels, almost half even. Also, chipmunks tend to have prominent black and white strips running from their head to their tail. They also have strips on the top of their heads, and white strips under their eyes. Some other types of squirrels may have stripes on the top of their head and sometimes on their body, but these are not as prominent as the chipmunks’ and at time may not even be distinguishable.

 

Chipmunks also have shorter less bushy tails than squirrels. While running, chipmunks tend to hold their tails more erect as compared to squirrels, whose tails flail about behind them. Furthermore, chipmunks have elastic skin in their cheeks. This allows them to fill these pouches with food and carry them back to their burrows either to save for the winter or to eat in peace.

 

There are other characteristics that set chipmunks apart from other squirrels, such as in the manner that they burrow or nest, the types of food they eat and other things. These differences are listed in the table below:

 

 

Squirrel

Chipmunk

Scientific classification

Animalia – Chordata – Mammalia – Rodentia – Sciuromorpha – Sciuridae

Animalia – Chordata – Mammalia – Rodentia – Sciuromorpha – Sciuridae – Marmotini – Tamiina - Tamias

Species

The living squirrels are divided into five subfamilies, with about 58 genera and some 285 species.

Chipmunks may be classified either as a single genus, Tamias, or as three genera: Tamias, which includes the eastern chipmunk; Eutamias, which includes the Siberian chipmunk; and Neotamias, which includes the 23 remaining, mostly western, species.

Size

Squirrels are generally small animals, ranging in size from the African pygmy squirrel at 7–10 cm (2.8–3.9 in) in length and just 10 g (0.35 oz) in weight, to the Alpine marmot which is 53–73 cm (21–29 in) long and weighs from 5 to 8 kg (11 to 18 lb).

The eastern chipmunk is large (up to 125 g) with a relatively short tail (about one-third of the total length from its nose to the tip of its tail), whereas western chipmunks are smaller (about 55 g) with a relatively longer tail (nearly half the total length from its nose to the tip of its tail). The eastern chipmunk is between 20 and 30 cm long, and western species are 16 to 28 cm long.

Body

Squirrels typically have slender bodies with bushy tails and large eyes.

Chipmunks have small rounded bodies

Limbs

The hind limbs are generally longer than the fore limbs, and they have four or five toes on each foot. Their paws on their fore feet include a thumb, although this is often poorly developed. The feet also have soft pads on the undersides. They also have very versatile and sturdy claws for grasping and climbing.

The hind limbs are generally longer than the fore limbs, and they have four or five toes on each foot. They also have very versatile and sturdy claws for grasping and climbing.

Fur

Their fur is generally soft and silky, although much thicker in some species than others.

Chipmunks have facial markings and five dark stripes on their backs, including a distinct, central line that runs from head to tail and two white stripes on their head and beneath the eyes.

Color

The color of squirrels is highly variable between and often even within species, but is usually black, brown or grey.

The eastern chipmunk is a colorful and attractive rodent with bright russet on its hips, rump, and tail; black, grey, and white stripes on its back; brown, grey, and buff on its head; white underparts; and brown feet. The western chipmunk species are arrayed in shades of grey, brown, reddish, white, and buff and share a distinctive pattern of black, pale grey, and buff stripes, although in the Townsend’s chipmunk the color contrasts of the stripes are masked by a warm brown overall wash. The red-tailed chipmunk is the most brightly colored of the western species.

Characteristics

Squirrels generally have an excellent sense of vision, which is especially important for tree-dwelling species. Many also have a good sense of touch. The teeth of squirrels follow the typical rodent pattern, with large gnawing incisors that grow throughout life, and grinding cheek teeth set back behind a wide gap, or diastema.

They have a habit of collecting and storing food for winter use. Chipmunks have cheek pouches that allow them to carry multiple food items to their burrows for either storage or consumption. The eastern chipmunk hibernates in the winter, while western chipmunks do not. Chipmunks are quite vocal. They often make sounds that resemble bird chirps. . The teeth of chipmunks follow the typical rodent pattern, with large gnawing incisors that grow throughout life, and grinding cheek teeth set back behind a wide gap, or diastema.

Habitat

Squirrels live in almost every habitat from tropical rainforest to semiarid desert, avoiding only the high polar regions and the driest of deserts.

All species of chipmunks are found in North America, with the exception of the Siberian chipmunk, which is found in Asia.

Burrow

Tree squirrels construct nursery nests in hollow trees, abandoned woodpecker cavities, and similar hollows. Where these are unavailable, they will build spherical or cup-shaped nests in trees, attics, and nest boxes. Ground squirrels burrow in the ground. The burrow openings are about 4 inches in diameter but can vary considerably. The burrows can be 5 to 30 feet or more in length and can extend 2 to 4 feet below the soil surface. They leave piles of dirt from burrowing outside of the entrance to their home.  A family may live in a single burrow.

Chipmunks construct expansive burrows beneath rocks, logs, shrubs, and other such shelters. The burrows can be more than 3.5 m in length with several well-concealed entrances. The sleeping quarters are kept extremely clean as shells and feces are stored in refuse tunnels. Each chipmunk builds its own burrow and leads a solitary lifestyle often ignoring other chipmunks.

Diet

Squirrels' diets consist primarily of a wide variety of plants, including nuts, seeds, conifer cones, fruits, fungi and green vegetation. However, some squirrels also consume meat, especially when faced with hunger. Squirrels have been known to eat insects, eggs, small birds, young snakes and smaller rodents. Indeed, some tropical species have shifted almost entirely to a diet of insects.

Chipmunks have an omnivorous diet primarily consisting of seeds, nuts and other fruits, and buds. They also commonly eat grass, shoots, and many other forms of plant matter, as well as fungi, insects and other arthropods, small frogs, worms, and bird eggs.

Average lifespan

Six to eight years. However, many squirrels do not live past a year due to automobile accidents and food shortages. Some may live up to 12 years in captivity.

Chipmunks typically live about three years. They may live up to nine years in captivity.

Breeding

Squirrels breed once or twice a year and give birth to a varying number of young after three to six weeks.

Eastern chipmunks mate in early spring and again in early summer, producing litters of four or five young twice each year. Western chipmunks breed only once a year.

Offspring

The young are born naked, toothless, and blind. In most species of squirrel, only the female looks after the young.

The young do not open their eyes until 31 to 33 days of age. Generally females care for the young.

 

 

Image Courtesy: statesymbolsusa.org

Image Courtesy: timesunion.com

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