The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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Heart of the Blue Ridge

Tales and Trails - The Chipmunk

By Spike Knuth © 1990
Information Officer
Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries

Issue: July, 1990

Without a doubt one of the most enjoyable little creatures of the Virginia woodlands is the Eastern chipmunk. Its scientific names is Tamias Striatus which means "a storer with stripes," or striped storer!" The chipmunk is a small ground-dwelling squirrel with conspicuous lengthwise stripes on its back, sides and cheeks. It's about five or six inches in length with its tail adding another three or four inches.

It feeds on all manner of seeds and dried wild fruits, insects, mushrooms, grains and a variety of animal matter. It has internal mouth pockets in its cheeks which are used to carry and store large quantities of food prior to winter. Stuffing its cheeks to bulging capacity, it will deposit the food in a special compartment within its burrow where it will spend the winter. Chipmunks will even climb trees to obtain nuts, dogwood berries and the like, and will store as much as a half bushel of food in its burrow.

Actually, the chipmunk is a semi-hibernator in Virginia, napping only during harsher, colder weather. During warming trends, it will come out to forage, frequently visiting bird feeders since they are very fond of sunflower seeds. They can be quite a nuisance around grain storage bins or a home vegetable cellar. Few people realize that the chipmunk also naps during the heat of summer. The little critter will curl up in its cool burrow to escape the heat in a process called "estivation."

The chipmunk is very curious, though nervous, alert and elusive. It prefers timber borderland, especially rocky hillsides around hardwoods. However, it takes readily to parks and the backyard woodpile as well. Normally it digs a burrow underground amid rocks or stone fences, in rocky ridges or wooded banks. Garage or shed foundations or cement patio slabs are just as attractive.

Many have experienced walking into a woods, hearing the high-pitched almost bird-like "chucking" noises of the chipmunk. Then with the rustling of leaves it bounds away with tail held high.

Editor's Note... Many people who visit the Blue Ridge will see chipmunks running across the roads, faster than it seems possible for their little feet to carry them, with their tails straight-as-an-arrow, pointed toward the sky.