A Striped Beguiler

What an engaging little creature the chipmunk is, and how easily tamed! That is, how quickly he can train us to provide him with nuts and seeds! His Latin name, Tamias striatus, means the striped steward; a steward, in this case, being one who lays in provisions.
Chipmunks can stow away an astonishing amount of food in their inner cheek pouches. They look so comical with their cheeks puffed out, that people will feed them more and more, to see how much they can fit into their mouths. In fact, the noted naturalist, John Burroughs, meaning to "observe" the little creature, over a period of three days, gave a chipmunk five quarts of hickory nuts, two quarts of chestnuts, and much shelled corn!
This diminutive member of the squirrel family, nine inches long from head to tail tip, weighs only three ounces. He has chestnut-red fur, beautifully marked with five dark brown and buff stripes on his back and sides. He is white beneath. His large, shiny black eyes are also bordered with stripes. This coloration provides excellent camouflage amidst the leaf litter of the forest floor. The chipmunk has a flat, furry tail that he holds straight up as he runs.
Although the chipmunk can climb trees well enough, it prefers to scamper rapidly about on the ground. It is nervous and energetic, and chatters to its fellows with a variety of calls: "chips," "chucks," whistles and trills.
The chipmunk is fairly omnivorous. It primarily eats nuts, such as, acorns, pine nuts, hazelnuts, hickory nuts and beechnuts, and seeds and grains of all kinds. It particularly enjoys eating strawberries, blueberries, elderberries and raspberries, and wild cherries as well. It looks very cute to the human beholder, sitting up on its haunches, and clutching its nut in both hands, with its tail curved over its back.
The chipmunk may steal some flower bulbs, although his tiny cousins, the white-footed mouse and the pine vole, are the greater transgressors. The velvety little mole, no relative at all, is often blamed for these depredations. (He, of course, never eats bulbs, although his tunnels may provide access to the flower beds.) The chipmunk also aids the gardener, for it eats many injurious insects, snails, and slugs. There is a darker side to our little sprite; it has been known to seize birds' eggs, and even fledglings. However, these depredations are minor.
The chipmunk's preferred habitat is the edge of woodlands. He enjoys running about on old stone walls and perching on woodpiles. He will often site its burrow near a rock pile, or an old tree or stump. (Old root systems afford him many useful crevices.) The entrance to the burrow is a round hole about two inches in diameter. The shaft plunges straight down about seven inches, then veers, sloping downward two or three feet, to various chambers. Different chambers serve different purposes. Some are for the storage of food, the deepest chamber is the toilet, and the largest chamber, toward the rear of the main shaft, is for the bedroom. This is an oval room, about one foot wide and one foot high. Here, the chipmunk makes a warm bed of shredded leaves and grasses. His bed lies directly on top of a large heap of nuts and seeds. When the chipmunk wakes hungry in the winter, he need only reach beneath him for breakfast in bed!
The chipmunk moves the excavated soil several yards from the main entrance so as not to attract predators. Often, the clever little engineer digs a new entrance from below and fills in the original one.
Sometime in November, the chipmunk rolls up in a ball with his head tucked between his back legs, and his tail placed over his back and head like a blanket. His metabolism slows and he becomes torpid. However, since he isn't able to put on enough fat to get through the winter without eating, in the manner of a woodchuck, he wakes up from time to time. He eats some of his stored food, visits his toilet chamber, scampers about his burrow, and may even, if the day is warm, come out very briefly. Then, he goes back to sleep and becomes torpid once again.
Generally, at the time that the robins arrive, the chipmunks are ready to wake up and emerge. The male then searches for a mate. If a female chipmunk accepts him, (by no means a sure thing), after thirty days, three to five babies will be born. The babies are tiny, naked, pink creatures-- helpless, blind and deaf. When two weeks old, they have faintly striped fuzzy fur, and can stand up. At three weeks, they can hear, and at four weeks, they can see. They stay with their mother for three and a half months, then, they are fully developed and ready to go forth on their own.
What a pleasure it is, after a cruel winter, to have the presence of these charming woodland creatures in the dooryard once again!


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