Ground squirrels, gophers, and chipmunks are similar in many ways, which often leads to confusion. Anyone unfamiliar with these creatures may confuse them with one another. Still, they are, in fact, very different from each other. The best way to learn the differences between these animals is to compare them directly.
Ground squirrels, gophers, and chipmunks are burrowing rodents. Chipmunks and ground squirrels belong to the Sciuridae (tree squirrel) family and have similar habits, but chipmunks are smaller. Gophers are better diggers. Though small, these creatures you can identify them by their large external cheek pouches and prominent front teeth.
Comparing ground squirrels, gophers, and chipmunks is easy, and it highlights the differences between them. These animals are similar in some ways but are not the same and have entirely different characteristics and behaviors.
Let’s explore the differences between these small mammals.
Ground Squirrels Vs. Gophers Vs. Chipmunks
Ground squirrels, gophers, and chipmunks are all rodents that predominantly live and forage on the ground and dwell in underground burrows that they dig.
All these animals are mammals and can look similar depending on the species.
However, that is where the similarities between these animals end.
It is easy to think that these mammals are all the same, but if you look closer, you will quickly find that ground squirrels, chipmunks, and gophers are very different.
To better understand each of these animals for comparison, let’s take the time to learn more about them.
In doing so, their differences and similarities will become clear.
Let’s begin with ground squirrels, as these animals are the most likely to come into close contact with humans and are the source of the most confusion regarding these animals.
There are several different species of ground squirrel found worldwide. At the time of this writing, over 62 species of these rodents have been identified.
These squirrels live on the ground and dig burrows for dwellings rather than living in trees like most other squirrels. The rodents are active during the day; most have short legs and strong claws.
Ground squirrels are rodents in the Sciuridae family and are closely related to all forms of ground squirrels, including marmots, groundhogs, chipmunks, and susliks.
These squirrels range in physical characteristics but are usually a sandy, gray-brown color with bushy tails.
Some ground squirrels have stripes or dots along their bodies; some have darker fur on their backs and lighter fur on their bellies.
Most ground squirrels are medium-sized rodents and measure around 7 – 10 inches, including their tail.
However, some large species of ground squirrels, including marmots, can be as large as 30 inches.
Smaller ground squirrels can weigh as little as 0.09lb, and the largest of the genus can weigh as much as 24lb.
This shows that there is a vast range of ground squirrels, and they all vary in size, weight, and physical characteristics, but they all have the same behavioral attributes.
These squirrels are omnivores but primarily eat nuts, fruit, fungi, and seeds. In addition, they eat insects, eggs, and small animals such as mice.
Ground squirrels prefer habitats such as rocky outcrops, fields, sparse woodland areas, fields, and hillsides will sparse vegetation. These animals burrow underground, sleep underground, give birth, rear young, and store food underground.
These rodents tend to live in large family groups and can live for several years.
These ground squirrels share some of the same behavior as chipmunks and ground squirrels, as they are burrowing rodents but not from the same rodent family.
Gophers are of the rodent family Geomyidae, and there are more than 40 individual species of gophers, all endemic to Central and North America.
These rodents, including their tail, are relatively small and not usually more than 10 inches long. They have a short, hairy but not bushy tail used to navigate through burrows backward.
Gophers have large, prominent front teeth and long whiskers. They are usually a similar brown color to the ground they live in.
They have small eyes and ears but have characteristic cheek pouches on both sides of their mouth.
These cheek pouches are large and fur-lined. Gophers can turn them inside out for ease of use, and they usually extend back to the shoulder of the animals.
These cheek pouches serve various purposes, allowing animals to collect and transport food and other items back into their burrow.
Gophers have large larders underground where they store food. The larder is typically kept in a larder chamber underground, and gophers store more than enough food for dry, sparse, and cold seasons when good is scarce.
Most gophers are entirely herbivorous and only eat shrubs, plant roots, and juice-rich vegetables.
These animals are generally solitary except during mating season and usually dig extensive underground burrow networks. Gophers are territorial and tend not to get along with other gophers.
These rodents are the smallest rodents here but exhibit some of the same behavior. Chipmunks belong to the same family genus of rodents as ground squirrels and are considered ground squirrels, only much smaller.
The defining feature of chipmunks is their small size, chipmunks never grow more than 10 inches long, much of which is a fuzzy tail, and they never weigh more than 5 ounces.
The rodents are usually light brown with darker striped spots or markings on their backs. They also often have white striped, which are not found on gophers or ground squirrels.
These animals have relatively large ears, and eyes compared to the others listed here but are always physically smaller than gophers and ground squirrels.
Despite their small size, chipmunks create vast networks of burrows in which they live for their entire lives.
They live in family groups and are known to either hibernate during the winter or store large amounts of food underground and remain in their burrows over winter.
These animals are omnivorous and have a more varied diet than gophers and ground squirrels. They will eat roots, nuts, seeds, fruit, grains, insects, small animals, eggs, birds, vegetables, and acorns.
They have internal cheek pouches used to transport food to their stockpiles, but they are not as large as gopher cheek pouches, nor are they external and fur-lined.
These small mammals only breed once a year and tend to produce up to five young per breeding cycle. However, they are considered pests in most places due to the damage they cause to gardens and vegetable patches.
Ground squirrels, gophers, and chipmunks are similar in several ways but are very different animals. They look different, behave differently, and live in very different ways despite their burrowing nature.
Invest some time into researching these animals more, and you’ll quickly notice the various distinctions between them. These creatures are captivating and exquisite but cannot merely be lumped together as one category.
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