by Norma A. Hubbard (August 2017)
Many of you may have grown up watching Disney’s cartoons and know the characters Chip ‘n’ Dale, whom many think are adorable chipmunks. These two rodents terrorized Donald Duck and Mickey’s dog, Pluto, on many occasions. Chip ‘n’ Dale often caused problems and ran away, leaving destruction in their wake. They were never my favourite characters; I always thought they were mean to Pluto. Now as a gardener, real Chip ‘n’ Dales are my nemeses! I am sure that the creator, Bill Justice, must have spent some time in nature watching real chipmunks (Tamias) because he captured their personalities perfectly!
Eastern chipmunks are wide-spread in our area. Unlike Chip ‘n’ Dale, which Disney Productions decided needed to be different colours, there are no distinguishing markings between male and female chipmunks. All mature chipmunks have light and dark stripes down the full length of their bodies and weigh 125 g (4.4 oz.). I will reluctantly admit, they are cute little animals, however they cause such destruction in my gardens that it’s difficult for me to like them.
Unlike squirrels, who nest in the trees, chipmunks nest in the ground. Their burrows often have only one entrance and are about 45 to 85 cm (18 to 34 in.) in length and end with a small round nest of mostly grass and leaves. They will hibernate over the winter in their burrows. As friendly as they may seem to us, chipmunks are actually very solitary animals. They live alone in their burrows and don’t socialize with each other. Although they have territories, most don’t respect boundaries and will invade another’s territory.
During breeding season in the spring, males will compete with other males for a female’s attention and males will mate with more than one female. Females can have one litter per season and can produce 4 to 6 babies which the mother raises on her own. The babies weigh 3 grams at birth – that is only 0.10 of an ounce! Offspring don’t open their eyes for at least 30 days, then within a week or two of seeing, they will start to leave the nest. They are full grown by the time fall rolls in and they will be on their own.
Chipmunks aren’t as invasive to my birdfeeders as squirrels, but I have caught these little demons in my feeders with their cheeks full of seeds, which is their favourite food. It is quite entertaining to watch them when they are caught – often they will slowly spit out the seeds to lighten their load for a quick getaway! It is equally fun to watch them try to stuff as many peanuts as they can into their tiny cheek pouches. What’s not so funny is the fact that they cache their seeds everywhere in my garden, so I am constantly pulling out sunflowers plants where I don’t want them. They also eat my bulbs and dig up the roots of my plants as they burrow into the ground. They have well designed claws for digging. It is amazing how often I de-rock an area to plant flowers and within a few days, the chipmunks have invaded that space, obviously delighted I removed the rocks for them! Chipmunks often will yell and curse at me while I am gardening, most likely annoyed that I am digging in their territory. As these are not endangered species, I admit I do let my dog chase them, but she has yet to catch one. They are fast little things – and much like Pluto – my dog is left looking silly while the chipmunks laugh at her from a safe distance. Yes, Disney definitely got it right with Chip ‘n’ Dale!
Source: Hinterland Who’s Who [online} www.hww.ca/en/wildlife/mammals/chipmunk