At Home in Nature

  (Agate, Colorado)
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Foxes and Coyotes enjoy groundsquirrels too

Perhaps you’ve noticed the extraordinary number of 13-stripped patriotic ground squirrels this year?  So have the foxes and coyotes who have been busy at every moment of pleasant weather hunting them. 

It’s not very hard: the rodents are not shy at all.  While observing the hunt, I was able to get within pouncing distance from several squirrels, who simply watched me with curiosity.  They rely on their quick reflexes and the abundance of shelter.

According to Edward C. Cleary, the Associate State Director of USDA-APHIS-Wildlife Services in Ohio, “Thirteen-lined ground squirrels are omnivorous. At least 50% of their diet is animal matter — grasshoppers, wireworms, caterpillars, beetles, cutworms, ants, insect eggs, mice, earthworms, small birds, and each other. The vegetative portion of the diet includes seeds, green shoots, flower heads, roots, vegetables, fruits, and cereal grains. They rarely drink water, depending instead on water contained in their food. They cache large quantities of seeds and grass, but never meat. The cached food may be eaten during periods of bad weather or in the late autumn and early spring when other food is scarce.”

Cleary does not think them to be a significant pest.  “The thirteen-lined ground squirrel’s preference for insects and field mice may provide some benefit to the agricultural community. Large concentrations of these ground squirrels in pastures, fields, and gardens can, however, cause loss of forages and crops. They dig up newly planted seeds, clip emerging plant shoots, and pull overripening wheat, barley and oats to eat the grain. They will readily feed on commonly grown home or truck garden vegetables, often damaging much more than they consume.  Thirteen-lined ground squirrels will invade golf courses, parks, lawns, athletic fields, cemeteries, and similar wide open grassy sites. Their burrowing and feeding activity can cause major economic and aesthetic damage in such places.”

It has a maximum running speed of 8 mph (13 km/h), and reverses direction if chased.  In late summer, it puts on a heavy layer of fat and stores some food in its burrow. It enters its nest in October (some adults retire much earlier), rolls into a stiff ball, and decreases its respiration from between 100 and 200 breaths per minute to one breath about every five minutes. It emerges in March or early April.

They will typically range over 2-3 acres.

 
 
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