WC is again taking heat from readers for being avian-centric. WC could point out that birds are what he does. WC could plead that birds are the only taxonomic area in which he is even marginally competent. But instead, here’s a sampler of mammals, specifically a set of rodents, that have wandered in front of WC’s camera lens recently and tentative
identification guesses as to their species. Spolier alert: They don’t all have stripes.
The quintessential stripy guys are the chipmunks. The Least Chipmunk, as its name suggests, is the smallest. It’s also the most widely distributed. Apart frm size and the absence of any gray color, a behavioral cue is the best means to identify this species: it runs with its tail straight up behind it.
By contrast, the Yellow-pine Chipmunk does have gray in its pelage, and the underside of the ail is rufous. It has a longer tail which it holds horizontal when it runs.
Ground squirrels are harder, at least for WC. Especially in Idaho, where the ranges of a number of species that are very similar overlap. WC is quire sure of the identification of this species because it is banded; it’s the critically endangered Northern Idaho Ground Squirrel, whose range is now restricted to a few small areas.
In the northern two-thirds of Idaho – away from the desert – the most common ground squirrel species is the Columbian. Most of the time, it’s a fairly easy identification, with the strong rufous wash across the face, chest and forelegs. Often there is a whitish border around the rufous chest. Even among ground squirrels, this is a lazy boy; between hibernation and etivation, it sleeps away two-thirds of each year.
Another fairly widely distributed species in Idaho, the Golden-mantled Ground Squirrel superficially resembles a chipmunk, but it is larger, has rounded ears and a stubby face. The white stripe ends at the neck, and there is a variable golden hood on the back of the neck and head.
It’s not possible to tell a Piute Ground Squirrel from a Merriam’s Ground Squirrel in the field. And their ranges overlap. They were formerly lumped together with Townsend’s Ground Squirrel, but split into three species based on chromosonal studies. In fact, the Piute has 38 chromosomes and the Merriam’s has 46 chromosomes. If you think this is a Merriam’s instead, feel free to do so.
When WC was in southern Arizona a while back, this handsome felloow presented himself, shoving ground-feeding birds away. It’s the only strong spotted species WC has photographed.
Finally, no former Alaskan’s ground squirrel list would be complete without an Arctic Ground Squirrel, the Sik-sik Pup, or more practically, the Parka Squirrel. WC doesn’t want to say this species get porcine as winter approaches, but, hey, it’s long and very cold.
There are dozens of other chipmunk and ground squirrel species. They aren’t a major target for WC. But they are undeniably cute. And someone has to be the base of the raptor food chain.