For centuries, they have entertained nature lovers
young and old. What appears to be nervous mischief and daring
bravery on their part has captured the heart of many a
cartoonist. And some might even call it woeful to spend a
weekend in a state or National Park without encountering at
Before you get too confused, let me set you straight – we’re not reminiscing park rangers, but rather the delightful eastern chipmunk
In Oklahoma, this species primarily is found, as one might assume from its name, in the eastern part of the state. Eastern Oklahoma, in actuality, is the western fringe of the eastern chipmunk’s natural range. It finds a special niche the rocky hillsides and dry ravines of the beautiful Ozark hills habitat.
Chipmunks, like most small rodents, are burrowers. They prefer openings beneath protected locations such as logs or rocks, with a dugout chamber for a nest. They are commonly confused with Oklahoma’s 13-lined ground squirrel. To the casual observer, both appear reddish-brown or tan, with conspicuous dark stripes alternating with gray or brown. Their under parts are white or buff. Also, both use cheek pouches inside their mouth to carry food. When filled to capacity, each pouch can expand almost as large as the animal’s head, giving the impression of just returning from a dentist’s office where your wisdom teeth were removed.
Yet several characteristics set these two species apart. The lines on a chipmunk extend the entire length of the body, from nose to tail. The ground squirrel only bear lines on the midsection of its back. A chipmunk also is noticeably smaller, it ears more prominent, and its tail less bushy than that of the ground squirrel.
The eastern chipmunk subsists on small nuts, weed seeds and small fruit. Interestingly, it’s a successful carnivore too. It is well documented that this species sometimes feeds on a considerable amount of insects. Instinctively, these rodents store food within their burrows. These caches help sustain this species are usually in stock at all times.
Chipmunks are as popular with campground visitors as campground visitors are with chipmunks. What camping area would be complete without a few of these furry critters dashing from rock to rock? Although timid when first approached, chipmunks soon lose their fear once they associate people with an easy source of food. But this cornucopia of potato chips and hot dog buns may do harm more than good. Other than the obvious lack of nutritional value, chipmunks become all-too-accustomed to handouts from well meaning campers. Often, this junco food is taken back to the burrow and added to the food cache. However, if it is not eaten soon, these human morsels can spoil an entire winter’s food supply.
Some individuals hibernate through the cold months, but spend the winter deep in their burrows; awake but lethargic, waiting to resume their active pace above ground once warmer temperatures return.
Mating occurs about 10 to 20 days after chipmunks become active each spring. This may happen sooner or later depending on seasonal weather patterns and conditions. Gestation lasts approximately 30 days, after which female selects a grass-lined section of the burrow where five to six young will be born.
At birth, each is naked and only about two inches long. They are weaned at about five weeks, but remain with the female for several more months. Young chipmunks reach sexual maturity when less than a year old. The average life span is about five years, which is fairly long for a rodent. However, this species is so fleet-footed and wary that it is not easily captured by predators.
On any given warm and sunny afternoon, whether you’re deer hunting deep in the Ozark hardwoods or picnicking in an eastern Oklahoma campground, you are sure to hear the contented chirps of one of our most endearing watchable wildlife species – the eastern chipmunk