Scientific Name: Tamias striatus striatus
Abundance: Common northwest of Raleigh (brown area)
Species Profile (PDF)
Eastern Chipmunk (Allen Boynton)
With reddish brown fur, a black stripe down the center of its back and a set of two black stripes, one on either side, the eastern chipmunk has distinctive coloring. Chipmunks from the Carolinas are said to have brighter coloration than those to the north. Much smaller than squirrels, chipmunks measure 8 to 10 inches long, including 3 to 4 inches of tail. The fur of the tail is a darker brown above and rusty underneath and is far less bushy than that of a squirrel. The chipmunk’s ears are small and round, placed high on the head, and the cheeks are marked by lateral stripes. The forepaws contain four slender “fingers” and a non-functioning “thumb.” Forepaws are adapted for digging, and hind paws for jumping. Perhaps the chipmunk’s most distinguishing feature is its large cheek pouches, in which can be stored a heaping tablespoonful of nuts or seeds. The chipmunk loads each cheek pouch with its front paws through a gap in its side teeth, then unloads its supplies in a storage burrow underground.
Chipmunks are found in urban and rural habitats alike, the eastern chipmunk prefers open woodlands or forest edges, with plenty of cover and dry hillsides for digging burrows. The chipmunk is most active in early morning and late afternoon, gathering and storing seeds, nuts, acorns and berries. Other foods include insects, small amphibians and birds. Unlike squirrels, chipmunks spend most of their time foraging on the ground, climbing trees only occasionally. Each chipmunk’s trail may be a complicated zigzag from burrow to foraging grounds, and the pattern is repeated over and over again.
Burrows provide protection from predators such as hawks, owls, foxes and snakes. The eastern ground squirrel is an important source of food for these small predators. Burrows also provide safe quarters during winter months, when cold weather brings on a state of deep sleep. During this “quasi-hibernation” breathing slows and body temperature is lowered, often for days at a time. Chipmunks remain more active in North Carolina winters, however, than in colder northern climes.
A recent photograph from a Wilmington resident has biologists curious about chipmunks’ range, which has traditionally been north and west of Wake County. If you observe a chipmunk or its burrow in New Hanover, Brunswick, Onslow, Duplin, Sampson, Bladen, Cumberland, Moore, Montgomery, Anson, Richmond or Robeson counties, take a picture (required), note the location, date and time the chipmunk was seen and contact the NC Wildlife Helpline, 866-318-2401.
The Eastern chipmunk is a nongame species with no hunting or trapping season.
Wildlife Diversity Program Quarterly Reports