What are Ground Squirrels?

A chipmunk among leaves. Photo by Donna L. Long.
Ground squirrel: A chipmunk among leaves. Photo by Donna L. Long.

Ground squirrels are squirrel-like rodents that usually forage on and nest in the ground. They belong to the genera Sciuridae, the squirrel family. Examples of animals classified as ground squirrels include marmots, prairie dogs, woodchucks (groundhogs), and chipmunks.

What does a ground squirrel look like?

Groundhogs have long bodies, short legs, and long claws. A ground squirrels short limbs are useful in digging. Tree squirrels have loner limbs useful in climbing. All ground squirrels can stand on their hind legs.

They have relatively short tails, shorter than tree squirrels.

Woodchuck or groundhog (Marmotoa monax) standing on its hind legs. Photo by Donna L. Long.

Ground squirrels have a range of low-key fur colors. Fur colors can be gray tannish-brown, pale brown, olive, reddish, and dark brown. In some species, there are some individuals who are partially or completely black. Most species have stripes or spots instead of solid color fur. The stripes can be white or brownish-black. Underparts can be shades of white, gray, tan or brown. Fur texture ranges from soft to coarse.

Groundhog or Woodchuck (Marmotoa monax). Photo by Donna L. Long.
Groundhog or Woodchuck (Marmotoa monax). Photo by Donna L. Long.

Where in do ground squirrels live? What is ground squirrel habitat?

Ground squirrels usually forage on and nest in the ground. Some ground squirrels will climb trees.

They live in open areas. Their habitat includes rocky outcrops, fields, pastures, and sparsely wooded hillsides. They don’t live in heavily forested or water habitats.

They can found around humans habitats in pastures, golf courses, cemeteries, and parks.

Groundhog or Woodchuck (Marmotoa monax). Photo by Donna L. Long.

What do they eat?

Ground squirrels are omnivorous and eat both plant and meat foods. The plants eaten include fungi, nuts, fruits, and seeds. The animal or meat foods include insects, eggs, and other small animals. They are also known to eat rats and mice several times their size.

They use the four long incisors in the front of their mouths to gnaw on hard objects (nuts, your trash can lids, etc.) and cut plants and other vegetation.

Ground squirrels like all rodents have four-chisel-like incisors in the front of their mouths. Two incisors are at the top and two incisors are in the bottom front of their mouths. They use these four incurs for gnawing. These incisors continually grow and have long roots extending into their jaw bone.

Years ago I remember seeing a photo of a hibernating ground squirrel whose teeth continued to grow until the teeth grow through the animal’s jaw. The animal eventually died because with the too long teeth it could not gnaw or feed.

The other teeth in a squirrel’s mouth are molars in the back of their mouths used for grinding just like us humans use our molars.

Ground squirrel: Eastern Chipmunk (Tamias griseus) Photo by Donna L. Long.

Where in the world do they live?

Ground squirrels live in North America, Africa, Eurasia, and Southeast Asia. South America does not have ground squirrels.

The Squirrel family (Sciuridae) occurs naturally on all continents except Australia, Antarctica, and not on the isolated islands in the large oceans. The Sciuridae family includes ground squirrels.

In North America, there are tree, flying and ground squirrels. In South America, there are tree squirrels but no ground or flying squirrels. Africa had a great diversity of squirrels but no flying squirrels. In Eurasia, there are ground and tree squirrels but no flying squirrels. Southeast Asia has an extraordinary diversity of squirrels of tree, flying, specialized squirrels.

How many ground squirrels species are in North America?

There are about forty-seven species of ground squirrels in North America. They are called ground squirrels, chipmunks, and marmots (which includes woodchucks).

How many types of ground squirrels are there in the world?

There are 278 species of the squirrel family (Sciuridae) on five continents. Squirrels live on all continents except Antarctica and Australia. In the big Squirrel family, there are about 140 species of ground squirrels in the world.

How are ground squirrels scientifically classified?

The Squirrel family (Sciuridae) is divided up into three groups: tree squirrels, flying squirrels, and ground squirrels. The squirrel family is classified as belonging to the order of rodents (RODENTIA), family (Sciuridae), subfamily (Xerinae). Then there are the tribes. North American ground squirrels are tribe Marmotini. African ground squirrels are tribe Xerini.

See also

A Brighter Future for West Virginia’s Rare Flying Squirrel

Eastern Gray Squirrel

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