Missouri has diverse ecosystems, including prairies, woodlands, and forests. This makes it the perfect environment for a variety of wildlife, including ground squirrels. These burrowing rodents have sharp claws, strong legs, and keen senses. Below are a few of the ones you may find on your property.
Thirteen-Lined Ground Squirrel
The Thirteen-Lined Ground Squirrel (Ictidomys tridecemlineatus), also known as leopard ground squirrel, striped gopher, and squinney, is a small, slender rodent with thirteen alternating dark and light stripes running down its back.
They are primarily found in Northwest Missouri in grasslands and open dry prairies.
They are also known to inhabit forest edges, giving them access to open spaces for foraging and the cover of trees for protection.
This species is found in Missouri’s northern and central areas, with a particular preference for moist environments. However, these rodents can also be found on mowed lawns, golf courses, cemeteries, parks, etc.
Thirteen-lined ground squirrels are polygynous, meaning the males mate with multiple females. Mating starts in mid-April, and the females can have a litter of 3-14 pups.
Below are some of the main characteristics of the rodent:
- Length: 7-12 inches
- Weight: 4-7 ounces
- Habitat: Grasslands, open and dry areas
- Diet: Seeds, insects, grass, seeds, small birds, and leaves.
- Male Name: Buck
The Eastern Chipmunk (Tamias striatus ) can be seen throughout the state but are most common in the Ozarks. This small, ground-dwelling squirrel has dark lengthwise stripes on its sides and cheeks.
They prefer habitats with wooded areas and rock formations, where they can create their burrows.
Some of the main characteristics are:
- Length: 8-11 inches
- Weight: 2-5 ounces
- Habitat: Wooded areas, rock formations
- Diet: Seeds, nuts, fruits, and insects
Franklin’s Ground Squirrel
Last but not least, the largest ground squirrels in Missouri live in tall grass prairies, marsh edges, and meadows throughout the state.
These squirrels have grizzled gray and brown fur, providing excellent camouflage in grassy areas. They resemble the Eastern gray squirrel but have smaller ears and a less bushy tail.
Characteristics of Franklin’s Ground Squirrel are:
- Length: 14-20 inches
- Weight: 9-16 ounces
- Habitat: Tallgrass prairies, meadows, marsh edges
- Diet: Seeds, fruits, insects, small vertebrates
Habitats and Distribution
Thirteen-Lined Ground Squirrel favors habitats, including open grasslands and prairies. However, much like the Franklin’s Ground Squirrel, they can also be found in pastures or occasionally in public parks and gardens.
While they share similar habitat preferences, the Thirteen-Lined Ground Squirrel is more widespread in Missouri and can be found in much of the central and northern regions of the state.
Both species live in colonies, where they create extensive underground burrows that serve as shelter from predators and as a place to raise their young.
They have adapted well to their respective habitats by possessing broad forefeet and short limbs, which allow them to easily dig burrows, and short tails that do not interfere with their digging activities.
Diet and Foraging Behavior
The diet and diet and foraging behavior of ground squirrels in Missouri can vary depending on the species.
These squirrels forage for food in trees and on the ground in search of food. They all store nuts, acorns, and seeds as a food cache.
As you spend time outdoors in Missouri, watch for the various foraging behaviors of ground squirrels.
Keep in mind the differences in their diet based on their species as you learn more about these fascinating small mammals.
Reproduction and Life Cycle
Franklin’s ground squirrels mate two weeks after hibernation, from late April to early June. Pregnant females retreat into their underground burrows to give birth to a litter of 5 to 8 young ones after a gestation period of about 28 days.
The newborn squirrels are initially hairless and blind, requiring several weeks of maternal care before they venture outside.
The thirteen-lined ground squirrel, on the other hand, has a slightly different reproductive cycle. They breed from April to July and have a gestation period of about 28 days.
Litter sizes range from 4 to 11 young per litter. Like the Franklin ground squirrel, the pups are also born hairless and blind, and are dependent on their mothers for care during the first few weeks of life.
As the young ground squirrels grow, they begin venturing outside their burrows, learning to forage and fend for themselves.
Threats and Conservation
One major challenge for ground squirrels in Missouri is habitat loss. As urbanization and agricultural activities expand, the habitat of these squirrels is shrinking, leading to a decrease in their population.
In addition, competition for food resources with other animals, both native and invasive, can also impact their survival.
Like all rodents, these critters have several predators; these include snakes, humans, hawks, raccoons, humans, etc.
Climate change also affects their food source, habitat, and survival rate.
Unfortunately, the state has not implemented any laws or regulations to conserve the species. However, once they become endangered or threatened, the state will likely intervene to control the numbers.
What do Franklin’s ground squirrels look like?
Franklin’s ground squirrels have a total length of around 14-16.5 inches, with the tail making up about 4-6 inches of the total length. Both sexes make a whistling sound that is easily mistaken for bird calls.
What do thirteen-lined ground squirrels look like?
A Thirteen-lined ground squirrel’s body has thirteen distinct stripes running down their backs. They are smaller than their Franklin ground squirrel counterparts.
Missouri has a diverse wildlife population, with many species living in Missouri’s forests, open prairies, and woodlands.
All squirrels are vital in maintaining a healthy ecosystem for the region. Their behaviors of nutrient cycling, seed dispersal, and burying food for winter help balance the environment.
At the time of this writing, Franklin’s Ground Squirrel is a species of conservation concern. However, more squirrels are at risk due to climate change, logging, habitat destruction, and fragmentation.
To ensure Missouri’s wildlife can continue to flourish and restore equilibrium in the region, we must protect their habitats.
Conservation efforts must include strategies that reduce the impact of human activities and focus on protecting what remains of Missouri’s wildlife.
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