They sing, they solve mysteries and their squeaky voices might be one cause of our global shortage in helium. Chipmunks are certainly talented creatures -- at least in the cartoon world.
What are real chipmunks like, and how do they fit into the ecosystem? I ask WERC ecologist Christopher Lowrey to explain. Based out of the WERC Las Vegas Field Station, Lowrey studies the mammals of the Basin and Range Province in the southwestern United States, including the chipmunks of southern Nevada’s sky islands.
Q: What roles do chipmunks typically play in their local ecosystem?
Lowrey: Ecologically, chipmunks provide a ubiquitous prey base for many predators including weasel, skunk, raccoon, fox, badger and most birds of prey.
Q: How many species of chipmunks are found in California and Nevada?
Lowrey: There are 22 species of chipmunks in North America, with 15 of the occurring in California and/or Nevada. Mountain species tend to be a little larger -- though not always.
Q: But they all seem to have that distinctive white and black stripe down their back. Is there any significance to that coloration?
Lowrey: Although all chipmunks have stripes (and cheek pouches), the darker animals are found in the heavier forests and the light-furred ones are in the drier, more open areas.
Q: What’s the most interesting bit of trivia about chipmunk biology?
Lowrey: Chipmunks have rear ankles that can turn 180 degrees, so they can run up a tree, then turn around and run back down using their rear claws to hang on!
-- Ben Young Landis
Top image of Palmer's chipmunk (Tamias palmeri) by Chris Lowrey.
Image of Alvin and the Chipmunks courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox/Bagdasarian Productions, LLC