If you live in Europe or the Americas, you have probably encountered a tiny, fuzzy creature scurrying around looking for nuts. Some people find them adorable, and other people see them as pests that eat all the food left out for prettier birds. But how do you know if you're looking at a chipmunk or a squirrel? In chipmunk vs squirrel, how can you distinguish one from the other?
Squirrels and chipmunks are related animals, but they are not identical. Whether you seek to increase these creatures on your property or you wish to eliminate them, the first step is understanding them.
We put together this chipmunk vs squirrel guide because even though these frisky little varmints are nearly ubiquitous across America, there is much that the average person can learn in evaluating chipmunk vs squirrel.
We hope this article will primarily introduce you to their differences. Second, we will provide you with resources for removing these animals when they cause a problem.
Chipmunk vs Squirrel: A Comparison
Both chipmunks and squirrels are rodents in the family Sciuridae. That means they are related on the level of taxonomy, just above genus. So it is no wonder that people have trouble distinguishing one from the other.
A critter's home provides one of the easiest ways to determine whether a creature is a chipmunk vs squirrel. Chipmunks are ground-nesting creatures who live in holes they dig. As such, they are sometimes called “ground squirrels,” even though both chipmunks and squirrels spend time on the ground.
Squirrels nest in trees. Some species build elaborate nests that look like those of large birds. Others build small nests that can be hard to spot. Regardless, you are more likely to find a squirrel high in the branches of a tree whereas you are more likely to find a chipmunk scurrying along the ground.
This distinction in where the creature lives when considering chipmunk vs squirrel is possibly the most defining fact in both of the critter's evolutionary paths. This fact spreads out into other factors that might be more readily available to consider when you have a furry critter on your property, but you are struggling to make an identification concerning chipmunk vs squirrel. For instance, squirrels are larger than chipmunks. They also have bushier, more visible tails. Let's explore the particularities of each creature in depth.
Chipmunks are members of the genus Tamias. Over twenty species of the chipmunk exist, and the vast majority of them live in North America. They are easily identified by their brown coloring with prominent black striping across their backs. They have oddly expressive eyes for a rodent and have a habit of stuffing their expandable cheeks with nuts that seem too large for their heads.
One of the biggest differences concerning appearance in chipmunk vs squirrel is that chipmunks do not have the big bushy tail of squirrels. They have prominent tails, but they do not have that “blow-dried,” puffy quality to them that squirrels do.
Confusingly, chipmunks are referred to as “striped squirrels,” “timber tigers,” and occasionally “ground squirrels.” The name “chipmunk” comes from an Odawa word meaning “red squirrel.” So you can see why many people confuse the two. There are many similarities in the chipmunk vs squirrel comparison.
The Diets and Habits of Chipmunks
Chipmunks are omnivorous creatures, meaning that they eat animal protein and vegetables, fungi, fruits, and nuts. They are most often observed dining on seeds, nuts, buds, grass, shoots, and mushrooms. They additionally love to eat arthropods, small frogs, worms, and bird eggs if they can get their little rodent paws on them.
Perhaps most distressingly, chipmunks will eat cultivated grains and vegetables. They will also eat plants from farms and gardens. So you can see why many people consider them pests.
As we've mentioned, chipmunks are mostly found hunting for food on the ground, but they climb trees as squirrels do. They will climb trees to forage for nuts. Hazelnuts and acorns are their favorites.
Chipmunks construct burrows. Some of these can be as long as three and a half meter or eleven feet in length. These are actually elaborate living quarters that contain multiple hidden entrances and a refuse tunnel that sequesters waste away from their living area.
Squirrels can be found all over the world except for Antarctica and Oceania. The rest of the continents all have some variety of tree-dwelling members of the Sciuridae family. As a result, there are many more species of the squirrel than there are of the chipmunk. These species stick to the trees, only venturing across the ground when something particularly tasty is below or they need to cross to get to another tree.
They vastly prefer being up high as they can easily fall prey to house cats and their feral counterparts. Many become quite desensitized to humans in areas where they are not hunted. This varies from population to population.
Squirrels who grow up in cities will often show no fear of human beings, and those that get fed by humans often become fat. Squirrels that grow up in regions where squirrel is eaten are often much more skittish—understandably.
Regarding housing patterns in the chipmunk vs squirrel consideration, squirrels do not dig burrows. Instead, they build nests, usually in trees. These nests are technically called “dreys” to distinguish them from the tree-bound homes that birds build for themselves.
The Diets and Habits of Squirrels
Once a squirrel has established its drey, it's difficult to extricate from your property. Once they have scouted an area, they are no longer afraid of fake owls or similar scare-crow type of tactics. So if the drey is established, the squirrel is as well.
Distressingly, squirrels will use holes in a human's home to build their dreys. Many people have to hire professionals to remove squirrels from holes in their walls or attics.
After they have nested, a squirrel then searches for food. Nuts are famously its favorite food, and it will often tirelessly collect them to stash away in store holes for winter.
They will dig holes in the ground and pound one of their excess nuts in, remembering where they placed it. This is not a guarantee of food for the winter, however, as the more intelligent birds have learned to steal squirrels' food. Crows and other bright birds have been observed watching a squirrel go through all the labor of burying a nut and then fly over and pluck it out of the ground right afterward.
As squirrels spend more time in trees than chipmunks, they have more antagonistic interactions with birds than their more ground-bound cousins.
Removing Chipmunks From Your Property
The Humane Society suggests that the best way to deal with chipmunks on your property is to dis-incentivize them from taking up residence in your yard in the first place. There are several ways to do this.
You can install L-shaped footers around any foundations in your property. This will prevent chipmunks from burrowing under them. Remove choice chipmunk areas like rock piles, wood piles, and untrimmed back plantings. Chipmunks love these spots for burrow entrances and places for foraging.
If you have a problem with chipmunks digging up flower bulbs, you can plant the bulbs beneath a plastic or wire screen ground cover. Usually, a mesh of one inch by one inch is large enough to let plants sprout but small enough to stop chipmunks from digging.
Do not keep food items outdoors or you risk attracting chipmunks. If you want to have a bird feeder, make sure it is rodent-proof.
Removing Squirrels From Your Property
Most squirrels do not pose a problem to human habitation. If you are running into a problem by being overrun with squirrels, odds are your property provides an excellent food source for these creatures. Since they build their dreys high in trees, they can be much harder to extricate from your property than chipmunks. If you have a bird feeder, this is probably what is attracting the squirrels. Switch to a rodent-proof model and your squirrel woes should be eased.
Gardens prove more of a tricky problem. Squirrels love to dig up plant bulbs to eat. You can cover your garden with chicken wire, but most people consider this solution an eyesore. Instead, you can plant daffodils between your other plants. These flowers are poisonous to rodents, and they will discourage squirrels from eating the surrounding things.
If prevention does not solve your problem, there are further steps you can take. The most humane and cheapest way to get rid of these rodents is to make sure your home is not attractive to their needs. However, these creatures are wily, and they are even infamous for thwarting the anti-rodent measures in certain bird feeders.
Chemical deterrents based on peppers can be used to keep both chipmunks and squirrels away, but we suggest you use predator urine to scare them off, as it is more natural. Finally, if none of this works, you can always call a rodent removal professional. In chipmunk vs squirrel vs rodent-removal-specialist, the human being always wins.
Featured Image via Pixabay