Are Chipmunks In The Squirrel Family? [Similarities & Differences]

are chipmunks in the squirrel family

The animal kingdom classifications can be confusing and surprising. Nobody would suspect that rock hyrax, manatees, and elephants are related. It is always prudent to check which families animal species belong to before making assumptions. Chipmunks and squirrels look similar but do chipmunks belong to the squirrel family, and exactly what are their differences and similarities? 

Chipmunks belong to the same animal family as squirrels. It is known as the Sciuridae family, which are all medium or small-sized rodents. However, chipmunks are smaller than squirrels and are tan with distinctive black stripes and markings. Squirrels are grey, black, red, and white and vary in size.    

Some people think chipmunks are easily confused with squirrels, but once the differences are explained, you will not have any trouble differentiating them.

Do Chipmunks Belong To The Squirrel Family?  

Chipmunks belong to the same animal family as squirrels. The Latin name for the family is Sciuridae, and all the animals in it are medium to small rodents. 

All animals in the Sciuridae family have long bodies covered by soft, fine, or dense hair. 

Rodents of the Sciuridae family have four large incisors that grow continuously throughout their lives. If the animal’s incisors become too long, they can cause abscesses and lesions, preventing the chipmunk or squirrel from eating.

Squirrels and chipmunks must gnaw to wear their teeth down and keep them at a healthy length. 

This behavior occurs naturally when squirrels and chipmunks are foraging for food, biting and chewing nuts, bark, seeds, and other hard plant materials. 

Squirrels and chipmunks that inhabit people’s homes cause much damage through constant gnawing. They chew on wooden roof beams, electrical conduits, plumbing pipes, and even brick and concrete. All Sciuridae have the same skull shape and jaw structure. 

Are Squirrels Bigger Than Chipmunks?

Various types of squirrels and chipmunks exist, which differ in size. Typically, chipmunks are smaller compared to squirrels. 

Chipmunks are six to twelve inches long, including their tails. The biggest chipmunk is the Eastern chipmunk which grows to twelve inches. 

Squirrels usually vary in size from eight to twenty inches. 

The African pygmy squirrel is the tiniest squirrel, measuring four and a half to five inches. Although smaller than chipmunks, these little squirrels are found in Africa, while chipmunks are only found in North America. 

The Indian squirrel is twenty to forty inches making it the world’s biggest squirrel and much bigger than any chipmunk. Indian squirrels live in India and Sri Lanka, hundreds of miles from North America, where chipmunks live.

Are Chipmunks A Different Color From Squirrels?    

Chipmunks are usually reddish brown or tan. Their distinguishing feature is stripes that run lengthwise down their backs. They have five dark brown or black stripes, two greyish-brown stripes, and two white stripes. 

Squirrels have a range of colors depending on their species. Grey squirrels have grey fur, but some Eastern grey squirrels may have white fur. The Oriental Tree squirrel found in Thailand almost always has white fur. 

Red squirrels have red, reddish brown, or even yellowish-dull red fur. There is a range of colors that can occur depending on genetic factors.  

Black squirrels occur in several different species of squirrels but are most commonly seen in Eastern grey squirrels. 

Fox squirrels are usually grey, but some may be solid black or black with white feet.

Generally, squirrels do not have stripes, but some species have stripes. The Thirteen-lined Ground squirrels live in grasslands throughout North America. Other striped squirrels live in Asia and Africa. 

Striped squirrels do not have stripes on their heads, only their backs. 

The Least Striped squirrels have stripes on their cheek but not on the back of their heads.  

Chipmunk Tails Vs. Squirrel Tails

Chipmunks have furry tails that look slenderer than squirrel tails. Their tails are shorter when compared to squirrel tails. Chipmunks carry their tails upright when they move. 

Squirrels have long, bushy tails, usually carried horizontally behind them when they run. When they sit upright, their tails curve over their backs and heads. 

Chipmunk Ears Vs. Squirrel Ears

Chipmunks have rounded ears covered with smooth fur. Squirrel ears may be rounded but are more often pointed. 

Some species of squirrels have ear tufts that they can lift when they feel alarmed.

Chipmunks and squirrels have excellent hearing and vision. They are prey animals for most predators and must be constantly alert to evade capture. Their finely tuned senses help them to be aware of threats in their environment. 

Squirrels and chipmunks communicate by clicking, whistling, and clucking to alert others in the area to the presence of predators. 

Where Do Chipmunks And Squirrels Live?

Chipmunks live in burrows in the ground. They create an elaborate system of tunnels and caves to hide, sleep, and reproduce. Squirrels commonly live in trees except for ground squirrels which make burrows similar to chipmunks.    

Chipmunks have less dense fur than squirrels. They need a way to survive harsh winters. Their ground burrows allow them to keep warm through the winter. 

Many chipmunk burrows are insulated with layers of grass, twigs, fur, and other debris they find. They hibernate during winter, decreasing their need for food and energy to keep warm. 

Tree squirrels have thick, dense coats that allow them to survive winter living in the trees. They do not hibernate and use their food caches to survive through cold seasons when food is scarce. 

Chipmunks live in North America, except for the Siberian chipmunk. Squirrels can be found throughout the world on most continents. 

What Do Chipmunks And Squirrels Eat?

Chipmunks and squirrels are both omnivores. They eat berries, nuts, acorns, seeds, flower buds, mushrooms, insects, small reptiles, birds, and mammals. Their habitat and the availability of different food items influence their diet. 

Final Word

Chipmunks and squirrels belong to the Sciuridae family, which includes around 280 different species. 

They rodents have many similarities, including both species spend more of their time on the ground, are capable of climbing trees, and have a diet consisting of fruits, seeds, nuts, and insects, which is not surprising as they are distant relatives. 

The differences between squirrels and chipmunks have developed due to their distinct habitats and behaviors. 

For instance, squirrels are more arboreal and have adapted to climbing trees, while chipmunks have shorter legs and are better suited for life on the ground. 

Now that you understand the difference between these rodents, you can better appreciate the unique characteristics and adaptations of both squirrels and chipmunks. 

Whether observing them in the wild or simply enjoying their antics in your backyard, you can now identify and appreciate each species’ distinct features and behaviors.

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