chipmunk facts

10 Chipmunk Facts About the Cheeky Creature

When exploring our ecosystem, we might come across chipmunks, like the eastern chipmunk or western chipmunks. Upon learning about chipmunk behavior through this list of chipmunk facts, we can learn about their significant impact on the environment. 

Chipmunks can make burrow systems extending up to 3.5 meters in length. They also eat bird eggs and collect acorns; sometimes, they poke around bird feeders! This acorn collection and storage process helps disperse seeds of various tree species around their habitats. These chipmunk facts show that even the smallest creatures help maintain our planet's ecosystems.

Related: Read up on its rodent relative, in our squirrel facts, for more cheeky ways. (Like prairie dogs, chipmunks are also in the squirrel family!)

Top 10 Chipmunk Facts

chipmunk on grass
Photo by Aaron Doucett on Unsplash

1. Chipmunks prefer to live alone.

Also known as striped squirrels, chipmunks prefer solitude over social interactions with their peers. Each chipmunk establishes its territory: a hunting ground, nesting area, and refuge.

Chipmunks use scent glands on their cheeks to mark their territories. They rub against trees, rocks, and other objects. This behavior helps deter competition for resources and ward off predators.

While chipmunks may interact during mating season, they are generally aggressive toward intruders entering their territory. As a result, chipmunks can engage in high-speed chases, disputes, and territorial battles.

Moreover, each chipmunk defends its burrow system, a complex network of tunnels and chambers for various purposes.

2. Chipmunks have several natural predators.

cheeky creature on wood
Photo by Richard Hamilton on Unsplash

Another chipmunk fact is that the chipmunks' size and terrestrial lifestyle make them vulnerable to larger air or ground predators2.

For example, birds of prey, such as owls and hawks, hunt down chipmunks during their regular forages. Meanwhile, land-based predators like foxes, coyotes, and weasels can easily breach the chipmunks' underground dwellings. Even domesticated cats and dogs can prey on these tiny creatures. 

Wildcats, raccoons, and snakes have also developed specialized hunting techniques for chipmunks. However, chipmunks have evolved speed, agility, and heightened awareness of their surroundings, enabling them to escape into burrows, the undergrowth, or trees. 

3. Chipmunks store food in their cheeks.

Like many ground squirrels, chipmunks' cheek pouches can fit many items. Their cheek pouches can stretch to three times the size of their heads, allowing for quick food collection and minimizing exposure to predators.

During the warm months, chipmunks rely on this portable pantry to store up to 165 acorns a day, preparing for the winter. Moreover, these pouches can also carry bedding materials. 

4. Chipmunks build and live in burrows.

chipmunk close up
Photo by alex lauzon on Unsplash

Beneath rocks, trees, or bushes, chipmunks create an elaborate underground system. These burrows can extend up to 30 feet long and consist of multiple chambers, each with a specific function.

First is the nesting chamber, lined with soft materials like grass, leaves, and fur. This chamber is a warm and cozy sanctuary where chipmunks warm up during the winter and cool off in the summer. Likewise, It is where they rest and hide from predators.

Chipmunks also stock seeds and nuts in their burrow's food storage chambers. During the winter, these chambers help chipmunks survive until spring. Moreover, they semi-hibernate during this period, waking up occasionally to consume their stored food.

Waste chambers are another section of chipmunk burrows. These chambers help keep their living space clean and free from disease.

The chipmunk burrow also has multiple exits, which are emergency routes to escape predators. The strategically placed entrances and exits confuse and outwit possible threats.

5. Chipmunks hibernate in the winter.

Unlike other animals that hibernate during winter, chipmunks enter into a state of torpor where they take loads of naps. This behavior is similar to hibernation but not precisely the same3.

In the fall, chipmunks collect nuts and seeds to stock their burrows for the winter months. These burrows become larders, which they use when the forest becomes too cold for foraging. 

During torpor, the chipmunk's body goes into power-saving mode; its heart rate, respiration, and body temperature drops dramatically, similar to a thermostat setting. However, chipmunks remain warmer than true hibernators despite this drop in temperature. 

Through torpor, the chipmunk can conserve energy while still being able to wake up for a quick snack from their pantry.

Related read: Do Squirrels Hibernate? And What Do They Get Up To In Winter?

6. Chipmunks can swim.

cheeky creature on log
Photo by James Lee on Unsplash

One surprising chipmunk fact is that chipmunks can swim. When choosing between crossing a creek or facing a predator, chipmunks dive into the water and paddle through it. Their short legs and bushy tails help them navigate and avoid obstacles.

However, chipmunks cannot swim for long, and their fur is not waterproof. They only swim when necessary. However, chipmunks are born with this instinct and do not require any teaching1

7. Chipmunks use various alarm calls.

Chipmunk calls are coded messages transmitted through the environment. Their calls are a crucial lifeline for the survival of chipmunks, creating a symphony of communication. Moreover, each sound has a specific meaning, like alerting others to potential danger in the area.

The alarm calls of chipmunks involve a range of pitches and durations. Some calls involve high-pitched, rapid chirps that warn about predatory birds. In contrast, others are deeper and more drawn-out, signaling threats from terrestrial predators such as foxes or snakes. 

In addition, mother chipmunks pass down the ability to recognize and respond to each call to their offspring. 

8. Chipmunks follow unique mating behaviors.

Chipmunk mating behavior involves scent signals, chases, and vocalizations. Male chipmunks rely on their sense of smell to track down female chipmunks who are ready to mate. During the mating season, typically in spring and summer, chipmunk territories become active and noisy.

The male chipmunk emits high-pitched calls to attract potential mates, while females respond with softer calls. Additionally, female chipmunks become protective of their territories and defend them to ensure the safety of the baby chipmunks.

9. Only one chipmunk species lives outside the Americas.

chipmunk eating
Photo by Miah Rose on Unsplash

The Siberian chipmunk is unique among the 25 known species of chipmunks because it is the only one that lives outside North America. While North American chipmunks live in various environments, including forests, deserts, and suburban areas, the Siberian chipmunk has adapted to environments on the other side of the world.

True to its name, the Siberian chipmunk lives in northern Asia and parts of China, North Korea, Mongolia, and the vast plains of Russia. How did this cheeky rodent get there? In the 1960s, the opening of trade routes led to people introducing chipmunks to Europe. 

Some Europeans kept them as domestic pets while the rest escaped or got released, establishing themselves in new territories. Today, Siberian chipmunks are found in Belgium, France, Germany, the Netherlands, and Switzerland. Over the years, the Siberian chipmunk has adapted to European forests and urban environments like city parks. 

10. Chipmunk populations are stable.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has placed chipmunks on the "Least Concern" list, indicating their stable populations. Despite urban development, deforestation, and predators, chipmunks have adapted to various habitats.

Although conservation efforts for chipmunks are less popular than those for other species, localized initiatives are working to protect their habitats, particularly in areas vulnerable to city expansion. Moreover, with the threat of climate change, monitoring chipmunk populations is crucial in promptly identifying and responding to potential threats.

What are your favorite chipmunk facts? Share it to your social media feeds and tag us!

Related: To further explore the animal kingdom, check out some of the other animals that start with C.

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1

Gorelick, R., & Bertram, S. M. (2008). Swimming Eastern Chipmunks, Tamias striatus, and Hairy-tailed Mole, Parascalops breweri, in Kawartha Highlands Provincial Park, Ontario. Canadian Field-Naturalist.

2

Sullivan, T. P., & Sullivan, D. S. (2001). Influence of variable retention harvests on forest ecosystems. II. Diversity and population dynamics of small mammals. Journal of Applied Ecology, 38(6), 1234-1252.

3

Humphries, M., Kramer, D., & Thomas, D. (2003). The role of energy availability in mammalian hibernation: A cost-benefit approach. Physiological and Biochemical Zoology, 76(2), 165-179.

Mike is a degree-qualified researcher and writer passionate about increasing global awareness about climate change and encouraging people to act collectively in resolving these issues.

Fact Checked By:
Chinny Verana, BSc.

Photo by James Lee on Unsplash
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