Tuesday, June 18, 2013

munks a plenty

Is it me? Or are you seeing more chipmunks scurrying about this summer? They are all around my house. Scamper. Scamper. Scamper. 

It seems to me that this has been a good year for chipmunk making. Way to go Chip N' Dale!

If you travel to the west, ground squirrel identification gets complicated. In that part of the country, there are at least 16 species called ground squirrels and roughly 15 species labeled chipmunks, far too many for me to list here.

As a general rule, chipmunks have stripes, ground squirrels do not, but there are exceptions. (The thirteen-lined ground squirrel native to the Great Plains and eastern side of the Rockies has, well, 13 whitish lines running down its sides and back.) In truth, they are all ground squirrels because they all spend most of their lives on terra firma.

Some are found only in very limited ranges. The Charleston Mountain chipmunk is only found in the mountains of the same name in Nevada. The Sonoma chipmunk lives in northwestern California and the Mohave ground squirrel is endemic to the Mohave Desert also located in the Golden State. Unless one gets on a bus to go visit the other, their paths never cross. They are as isolated from one another as I am from the president.

Here in the Tennessee Valley we have only one species of ground squirrel: the Eastern chipmunk. Yes, only one; for some reason ground squirrels prefer the ground in the west. 

The word chipmunk was originally spelled "chitmunk," "chipmuck" or "chipminck. Take your pick, the rules of spelling were more relaxed back then, in fact, you spelled things the way you wanted to, freestyle. Some believe chipmunk is a very loose translation of the Ojibwe word for red squirrel, "ajidamoo." Yes, loose translation, very loose.

(I took the above photo in the Shenandoah Mountains of Virginia.)

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