Close-up of the Chipmunk face, stripes, tail and back foot. These are all Bailey except the tail which is Hazel's.
The Eastern American Grey Squirrel (Sciurus Carolinensis) above , now the U.K.'s most common Squirrel.
The Eurasian Red Squirrel (sciurus Vulgaris) above - our true native Squirrel, sadly endangered in U.K. Widespread in Europe but under threat from the spread of the Grey.
What is a Chipmunk?
Ginger with pouches full
Chipmunks are from the family 'Sciuridae' which includes tree Squirrels, Ground Squirrels and Flying Squirrels. Chipmunks are Ground Squirrels, (genus Tamias) that live in underground burrows in the wild. Chipmunks are also part of the 'Rodent' family which means 'to gnaw', their teeth constantly are growing. Chipmunks are distantly related to tree Squirrels such as the Red and also the Grey Squirrel. There are about 25 species and various sub-species of those Chipmunks but the only species you can buy in captivity in the UK is the Siberian Chipmunk (also known as The Korean Chipmunk or Asian Chipmunk - Eutamias Sibiricus). Other species have been seen in the U.K. on occassion but they appear to be very rare. There are nine sub-species I have heard of, of the Siberian, but only two have been kept as pets in the UK - Eutamias Sibiricus Barberi and Eutamias Sibiricus Lineatus. These two sub-species have been crossed at some point in the UK so some Siberian's are a mixture of both. Other Siberians are : Eutamias Sibiricus Sibiricus, Eutamias Sibiricus Striaus, Eutamias Sibiricus Orientalis and Eutamias Sibiricus Jacutensis, these are a few of the sub-species. The Siberian Chipmunk has a large range which includes Siberia and Asia including Japan, Korea and China.
The non-Siberian species live in the United States and Canada. Nearly all American Chipmunks are Western American Chipmunks with a single species called The Eastern American Chipmunk (Tamias Striatus). Eastern Chipmunks are larger than Western Chipmunks and probably Siberian's and live solitary being aggressive to others. I am familiar with the Eastern the most out of the American species, being easily recognised by the wide grey/brown stripes which surround a centre black stripe. Eastern Chipmunks can be very brightly coloured and they seem to have shorter less bushy tails.The rest of the stripes are black and white alternate. Western Chipmunk sizes vary with each species and in colour and appearance. The different species also live in different habitats and live in closer proximity to others and are more arboreal.
Western American Chipmunks - The Alpine Chipmunk (Eutamias Alpinus), Merriam's Chipmunk (Eutamias Merriami), The Yellow Pine Chipmunk (Eutamias Amoenus) and The Cliff Chipmunk (Eutamias Dorsalis). The Least Chipmunk (Eutamias Minimus), The Sonoma Chipmunk (Eutamias Sonomae), The Long Eared Chipmunk ( Eutamias Quadrimaculatus), The Townsend's Chipmunk (Eutamias Townsendii) and Lodgepole Chipmunk (Eutamias Speciosus). Red Tailed Chipmunk (Eutamias Ruficaudus), Uinta Chipmunk (Eutamias Umbrinus), Grey Collared Chipmunk (Eutamias Cinereicollis), Panamint Chipmunk (Eutamias Panamintinus), Colorado Chipmunk (Eutamias Quadrivittatus) and Palmer's Chipmunk (Eutamias Palmeri) - endangered species. Allen's Chipmunk (Eutamias Senex), Siskiyou Chipmunk (Eutamias Siskiyou), Yellow Cheeked Chipmunk (Eutamias Ochrogenys), Buller's chipmunk (Eutamias Bulleri) - threatened species. and Gray-Footed Chipmunk (Eutamias Canipes). Durango Chipmunk (Eutamias Durangae), California Chipmunk (Eutamias Obscurus)and finally The Hopi Chipmunk (Eutamias Rufus)
What does a Chipmunk look like?
There may be many different species and subspecies of Chipmunks but they all look similar but may be slightly different sizes and have slightly different stripe sizes and colours. Here i'll describe the Siberian - Siberian Chipmunks have nine stripes down their backs, five black-brown, two brown and two whitish. The centre stripe goes onto the Chipmunks head and onto the tail (only onto the tail on Agouti coloured Chipmunks). The tail is bushy and is a brown colour with black edging, a stripe down the middle and a white trim. The tail reminds you of a Grey Squirrel when fully fluffed out but is not quite as bushy. When the tail fur is flattened it looks very silvery. and can look very thin, a fully fluffed out tail makes the Chipmunk look larger they may fluff it out to intimidate other Chipmunks, show their dominance (the most dominant animals tend to have the fluffed out tails) or they fluff it out when nervous and curious about something. The Chipmunk's face has a brown stripe above and below each eye which runs from the nose to the ear and a brown stripe inbetween the other two from the eye to the ear. Also there is a white ring around each eye which extends into white stripes from the eye to the ear. The top stripe goes from the nose to the ear, this stripe has what looks like a scar (verticle line) at the edge of the side of the eye nearest the ear, all Siberian Chipmunks have this it is unknown why its just a curious quirk. The back of the ears are white. There are two large cheek pouches which the Chipmunk uses to collect food. It can carry quite an amount of food in these. It has been reported that Chipmunks can carry nine monkey nuts, four in each pouch and one in their teeth although they usually crack the shells and remove the nuts. Chipmunks have five toes on their back paws and four fingers on the front paws. Young babies have a extra finger on their front paw, which is just a stub of a thumb it must have a purpose at the time but they lose it when older. They have whiskers around the nose and eyes, on the side of the face and on the back of the paws, these are present from birth. Males and females look identical in appearance.
How does a Chipmunk live?
Chipmunks are diurnal so they are active in the day and go to bed just before dark. They are active most of the day constantly eating they will often stop and rest for an hour or two in the afternoon but other than that they are active from the moment they get up until they go to their burrows for bed. The time a Chipmunk goes to bed in captivity varies but it will usually be evening in the Spring and Summer and late afternoon in the Autumn and Winter. Sometimes Chipmunks do have lazy days and might not get up until much later although probably not in the wild. You would probably find Chipmunks that are outside will go to sleep well before dark while indoor ones won't be affected by that darkness so they may stay awake late into the evening with the artifical light but in Winter even indoor ones tend to go to bed earlier than they usually would. Chipmunks in the wild mainly live on the ground where they spend their day searching and collecting food which they carry in their cheek pouches. They sometimes climb trees and like their Cousins the larger Squirrels they decend from trees head first. To do this they rotate their paws round to grip onto the tree to climb down. Most Rodent species cannot do this. It has been said that Chipmunks rarely go above six foot although this varies with species and some Amercan species do live very high up. A Siberian Chipmunk burrow is much like other Rodents such as Hamsters, they have a main entrance and a second hidden entrance so they can escape if a predator enters the burrow . There are usually several different chambers where they sleep and store their food and have a toilet, They use leaves and grasses for nesting material. The Eastern American is said to build extensive underground burrows which can have three entrances or more, one Eastern burrow had 30 entrances and was 100 foot long which is amazing for such a small animal. The Chipmunk lives about 60 cm underground however Chipmunks are very good at digging so do not underestimate them, they are well able to dig deep down to get out of outside aviaries. In the wild Chipmunks are solitary (live alone) and only come together for breeding, each Chipmunk will have a territory which it will defend from others, although Western Chipmunks live in close proximity to others and Siberian's live in loose colonies and sometimes pair up in winter and tend to be more social both in the wild and captivity than the Eastern American which is strictly solitary and very aggressive to its own kind and should never be kept together as adults. Male Chipmunks will often overlap female territories, females will attract males for breeding by chirping loudly and males will fight over the females and the female will often choose which male she will mate with but sometimes its whatever one catches her first. After mating the female brings her babies up on her own. Chipmunks Hibernate in the wild but in captivity if they live outside they do not usually Hiberate unless there is very cold weather but become inactive in the Winter and stay in their nestboxes in the worst of the weather or burrows, coming out when there is better weather, some though may Hibernate fully from October until March but Hibernating for several days/ weeks during the worst of the weather is more common than Hibernating the full Winter. Its very important as Winter approches you provide lots of extra bedding and food and have well sheltered nestboxes. Some indoor and outdoor Chipmunks go into Torpor which is a Semi-Hibernation. A few of my older Chips go into Torpor this time of year and it can be very scary because their heart rate goes right down to just a few beats a minute and they feel very cold to the touch and they can feel rather stiff - Just like proper Hibernation but with Torpor they are more easily woken up and sleep for shorter periods. One of my males was in a deeper Torpor than the others last year and at times he looked dead, so far this winter he isn't showing signs of Torpor yet. It is best to avoid Torpor if you can because when they wake they behave very like a Chipmunk with Metabolic Bone Disease that has had a Seizure and this is scary if Torpor is new to you like it was for me. Most of mine sleep more in Winter but normal sleep and they remain quite active all Winter. When the Chipmunk wakes from Torpor it often has one/both eyes closed, trembles/shakes and is very wobbily. It can take a good 10-15 minutes to wake up fully and be aware of what's going on around it. It is not a good idea to wake a Chipmunk in Torpor or Hibernation because it is likely to cause this drunk like state and in deep Hibernation it is said to be risky could even kill the Chipmunk. I know some people let their Chipmunk's Hibernate the whole Winter and don't have any problems but I think proper Hibernation is more benefical than Torpor which is very disturbed sleep. If the Chipmunk is ill though then do keep them awake all Winter, they should not hibernate if they are unwell. Because Chipmunks can look dead when in Torpor/Hibernation do be careful, it is not unknown for owners to bury their Hamster that they have mistaken for dead but was really in a deep hibernation. Please do be sure your Chipmunk has passed away before burying him/her.
The lifespan of Chipmunks is generally up to 5 years for males. For females 5+. This is for Chipmunks in captivity in the wild it would probably be much less. In my experience females definitely live longer than males, . My oldest ever Chippie was a Dilute called Creamie who lived about 9 1/2 years. Abigail was 9 years when she died. Hazel passed away at 8 years and 10 months old and then Christmas who was another Dilute lived about 8 1/2 years. Hazel's brother died 2009 aged 8 so was very old for a male. The oldest male Chipmunk I have heard of was 10 years old, the oldest female was 14 years old.
Chipmunks communicate using a range of sounds and I am discovering more the longer I keep them - Chipmunk females attract mates by a loud chirp they repeat throughout the day which sounds like a bird, this is called a mating call, they do this when they are in estrus. All Chipmunk species have several alarm calls, one for danger from above and one for danger on the ground, a Chipmunk alarm call is a series of rapid chirps with a swish of it's tail as it runs off. All Chipmunks hearing the call will then run off and hide until the danger passes, they will then emerge cautiously from their hiding place, swishing their tail, ready to run again if something spooks them. Siberian Chipmunks have a range of chirps,chatters, Chitters, sniffs and squeaks to communicate. They even sometimes make a quiet sneeze sound when they are happy, thanks for Nate from the forum for pointing that out. Male Chipmunk's chirp but it's usually quieter than a female and doesn't last as long, it is thought to be for territory reasons, males will alarm call but I find they tend to leave that to the females if they live with females. Male Chipmunk's make a sniff sound in the breeding season often when mating, i think it is their version of a mating call however females will make this sound too but it is more common with males. Female Chipmunk's squeak to let males know they aren't interested in mating. Male and female Chipmunk's also squeak when having a disagreement or a fight or protecting a food cache from another coming and digging it up. They will also do this to warn another Chipmunk or person to leave them alone. They sometimes also grind their teeth together (this is a sign they are angry and very likely to bite leave your Chipmunk alone if it makes this sound towards you). Sometimes after a female rejects a male he will make a very faint squeak sound, i'm not sure why he does it. Babies squeak at birth and for their first few weeks, after a few days they start making click sounds this is very normal for very young babies but older babies and adults should never click if they do they are probably ill. After a babie's first week they start to chatter (which is kind of between a squeak and a chirp). Both sexes of Chipmunk's use their tails to communicate, when cautious of new objects a Chipmunk waves it's tail over it's back and slowly walks towards the object, ready to run away if it moves, they sometimes do this when meeting new Chipmunk's that is if they don't attack the newcomer straight away which they often do. Males will do it when approaching females for mating. It is thought that Chipmunks may also make sounds of a frequency we can't hear which they would possibly use to communicate with each other, Rodents such as Mice and Rats make squeaks we cannot hear. When asserting dominance a Chipmunk of any sex will mount another one which looks like mating. Dominance mounting can be very aggressive and sometimes results in some fur loss down the back.
Chipmunks eat with their paws which are like hands, here is Asriel
Chipmunks like to keep clean, here is Abigail and Bailey grooming. Chipmunks often wash their paws after eating.
Do Chipmunks like company in captivity?
In captivity Chipmunks can live in pairs or even in groups but can live happily alone as long as they have the proper environment and space. Very often same-sex siblings are more likely to get along. You should never have males out-number females if you want a successful group as males will often fight over the females. The ideal ratio is at least 2 females for every male personally I only have one male to a group of females, he will get all females pregnant so you don't really need another male and it tends to mean there is less trouble. Chipmunks do not breed well in small cages and you should never have a adult pair/group in a cage smaller than 5 foot tall. Chipmunks will breed easily if housed in an outside avairy so if you do not want babies stick with two Sisters/group of girls or two Brothers/group of boys or a Brother and Sister (male neutered) Brother and Sister's, come the female calling will mate together regardless of being related and this is very bad and not responsible breeding. Siblings rarely fight occasionally there will be squabbles but that's the same with all siblings. If Brothers and Sisters or other related pairs do breed they should not be allowed to breed again. A first litter may have healthy normal babies but by the second litter the babies may be born with deformities or be born weak and may die young, . Unrelated opposite sex pairs generally get on with no problems as long as they are put together as babies as young as possible.
Pairs are best for Chipmunks or singly, colonies can work but you need lots of space such as an outdoor avairy and you need to be careful not to have too many males for the number of females. The recommended ratio is two females for every male in the aviary. Remember every female will get pregnant and they often have babies about the same time so sometimes you may have problems due to this and have to separate some of the mother's. Also you will have to split the babies from the parents by December the latest to avoid inbreeding next year as by January/February the babies wll reach maturaty. I often find the parents will start bullying the babies or it can be the other way round as it nears winter. Any male babies will likely be very aggressive with each other by this time and Dad normally won't tolerate any sons by this time. Chipmunks do tend to become very territorial in autumn/winter this is due to them protecting their food caches, even if you put plenty of food out they don't know they will have enough food so they go into mad caching and fiercly guard those stores and will become nasty to any Chipmunk baby or adult they see as a threat to those stores. Our worst incident ever was in October three years ago, we had a group with Bailey and three females. The females were all babies the youngest was four months old and the other two were seven months old, the young female was getting bullied so I removed the older females leaving the young female Amber with Bailey and gradually introduced Willow and Nutkin back in. Sadly one day we returned home from a short hoilday to discover Amber dying from horrific injuries. To this day I don't know what caused the I suspect older females to turn on her but its made me extra cautious when keeping Chipmunks together, Amber was a lovely sweet thing, she never caused any trouble she wasn't interested in fighting or being dominant and she was so young. I was so shocked that baby Chipmunks would attack like this. After the attack I split all the Chipmunks up leaving just Bailey in the aviary alone .Nutkin and Willow came indoors in separate cages.
Sadly my incident is not alone there have been several cases of Chipmunks killing other Chipmunks and it is usually as winter nears. If there is any chasing, fighting and in particular injuries you must split the animals up as these incidents can lead to serious injuries and death. They often get worse the closer to winter .It is often a group that has got along well/very settled that this trouble starts in, most Chipmunks I find get along fine even enjoy each other's company during the spring/summer but come autumn/winter those previous friends do not often care much for each other and instead tolerate each other and get irrated by each other. Also large groups do not often work well in the cold months if you have a lot of Chipmunks together you may well get lots of problems. Weaned babies in particular are not often welcome after October.
Chipmunks generally fight hard, they don't warn each other like many other animals do. To avoid fighting some species will size each other up, they assess whether they have a good chance of winning the fight or not, they want to avoid injury unless they really stand a chance of winning but with Chipmunks they don't seem to think like that, they straight away will start giving each other injuries which can be minor, often bitten noses and tails and ears but some injuries can be very severe, many Chipmunks will bite the back of the neck and pin another down if they can catch them. Because of this any signs of fighting should be taken very seriously. Most fights will start with chasing which you shouldn't get confused with play. I've only really seen very young baby Chipmunks less than 3 months old chasing and wrestling in play. It seems older babies and adults rarely play and any chasing is a sign of aggression and a sign that fighting is very likely. What happens is one will chase another one and it can be very relentless, one will get chased as soon as it appears in sight of the other and the chasing will only stop if the one being chased can find a hiding place or the chaser gives up. Once the chaser catches the other Chip, he/she will pin it down, biting the back of the neck, if the other Chipmunk defends itself it will then turn into a rolling ball of both biting and scratching at each other and they can do damage to each other quickly. I have found that some Chipmunks won't defend themselves and will just try to get away from the other, or in some cases roll over onto their side in a submissive pose, one such Chipmunk was killed because she didn't fight back.
It seems they fight for many reasons, in Winter time it seems to be because they are pretecting the food as they get ready for a hard Winter. In Spring it can be females who are pregnant becoming vicious towards other females or the male as they want to protect their babies from possible harm. There seems to be dominance fighting which can happen any time of the year. In a pair or a colony of Chipmunks there is always one who in the alpha. The alpha will try to keep his/her position by letting the others know that he/she is in charge. In some cases another one will try and challenge that position, maybe a younger Chipmunk and then you can get some vicious fighting. Really though i've found that some Chipmunks just don't like others and sometimes i can't see any reason why that could be. But once a Chipmunk has decided it doesn't like another one it is usually very diificult to change that and separation will probably be the result to protect the attacked Chipmunk.
Since separating my fighting Chipmunks they all seem much happier, they don't seem to be missing each other's company at all. I think we can assume despite what you may have read elsewhere that Chipmunks are not like Guineapigs, Rats, Degus or Gerbils which like and even need for their true happiness another companion of their own kind, but that Chipmunks are more like the Syrian Hamster in that they are quite happy living solitary lives although not quite as extreme as the Hamster which will not live with another Hamster at all and will fight and usually kill another Hamster put in the same cage unless at mating time. Siberian Chipmunks are in between they probably prefer living alone but in most cases will tolerate and some like another Chipmunk living in the same cage. Some pairs will really bond and even get upset if a mate dies. You should find that aggression with another another will improve once Winter is over and breeding season begins, even the most aggressive Chipmunks will usually breed together when it is time.
Introducing unrelated Chipmunks to each other should always be done carefully as Chipmunks can be very territorial and can fight to the death. It's best to introduce them to a new cage at the same time so they get used to a new territory together but if this is not possible then place the new Chipmunk in a smaller cage inside the other Chipmunk's cage and for two-three weeks up to a month let them get used to each other through the cage, (the Chipmunk in the main cage will climb on the small cage and touch noses with the Chipmunk inside) as long as there isn't any agression after a few weeks let the Chipmunk in the smaller cage out so they can meet for the first time. Generally it will go ok but if they do fight then they may never get on. It will generally be easier with young animals under a year old. Not all Chipmunks will get on and neither of these methods may work for some individuals. If they do fight they must be separated as there could be serious injuries or one could even be killed. Using a water pistol may be a good idea to stop them fighting, I find most Chipmunks do not like getting wet. I have found some Agouti/Cinnamon Chipmunk's do not get on with White Chipmunk's and vise versa and males will not often tolerate another male unless they are brothers. Colour wasn't an issue with Abigail she got on well with her friend Pearl who was White and was fine with Cinnamon Ginger who was her breeding mate although they never had babies. You have to be careful with mixing different colours together especially if one colour vastily out-numbers another you can sometimes find that the colour that has the most individuals will target the colour that has only one or less individuals. It's only with these particular chipmunks i've had trouble, i've mixed colours in the past with no problems. There are no guarantees with Chipmunks!
So it seems when mixing Chipmunks we must think carefully about who might fit in best with an existing Chipmunk or group and watch out for any warning signs . You shouldn't get more than one unless you have facilities to separate them if needed.
Last update 2nd December 2013