Why Do Chipmunks Store Food In Their Cheeks?

Why Do Chipmunks Store Food In Their Cheeks

Some animals, such as chipmunks, squirrels, and hamsters, have pouches in their cheeks for carrying food. For example, if you have ever fed a chipmunk, you may have noticed them stuffing food into their mouth and promptly storing it in the cheeks. So, why do chipmunks store food in their cheeks?

Chipmunks are instinctive hoarders and store food in their cheeks because they are stocking up for winter. The cheek pouches transport copious amounts of food in no time to ensure that they can travel over long distances without losing crucial food.

It is well known that chipmunks store food in their mouths, which causes their cheeks to bulge. However, not many people are aware of why chipmunks do this. 

Some animals hoard things to prepare for winter, and chipmunks are one of them.

Why Do Chipmunks Store Food In Their Cheeks

Chipmunks do not stuff their cheeks because they are hungry. They do it to survive. Food pouches evolved to hide food from the competition until they could store it, making it difficult for other animals to steal it.

In the wild, chipmunks eat all kinds of foods. What they don’t consume right away is stored in their cheeks. 

Their cheeks have pouches that extend almost halfway down their body. The pouches consist of thin, malleable skin which can stretch to an unbelievable size.

They can hold up to 5 or more shelled peanuts in their cheek pouches. Some people who own a pet chipmunk have observed them carry 31 unshelled peanuts in their mouths. 

Storing food in their cheeks also allows chipmunks to move quickly and efficiently without having to stop and hunt for something else when they are hungry. 

They can store enough food for a couple of days, allowing them to travel long distances without worrying about finding a new source.

 Chipmunks store food in their cheeks to carry it to their burrow. The food is stored in nearby caches and munched on during colder months.

Interestingly, chipmunks can stuff their cheeks to 3 times the size of their head. This way, they can stock up for winter in no time as they do not have enough fat stored to help them make it through the winter.

These mammals spend most of their day gathering and storing seeds, which are their primary food source. 

The chipmunk shifts food backward and stuffs it between its teeth and the pouch in the cheek by using its tongue to prepare food for storage. As they get older, their cheek pouches can hold more.

The cheek pouches of ground squirrels allow them to carry about half of their body weight. However, the size and kind of the chipmunk determine how much food can fit inside.

What Kind Of Food Do Chipmunks Store In Their Cheeks?

It is a common misconception that chipmunks only eat nuts since almost every YouTube video showcases them stuffing their faces with nuts. 

However, as omnivores, they eat all kinds of different food like seeds, fruits, plant matter, grains, insects, mushrooms, bird eggs, etc. 

This is why they can have pounds and pounds of food. For example, they can hold up to 8 lbs of seeds in their cache.

When Do Chipmunks Store Food In Their Cheeks?

Chipmunks will tuck additional food inside their cheek pouches during the warmer months, specifically at the onset of autumn. Chipmunks go into dormancy during the winter months. 

They do a lot of sleeping yet don’t necessarily hibernate. They also feed less regularly during this period. Chipmunks typically consume stored food throughout the winter, between their resting days.

What Do Chipmunks Do With The Stored Food?

Chipmunks eat about six times daily, taking small portions each time. However, when they don’t eat, they generally push the food back out and store it for later. 

A unique muscle in the upper jaw of ground squirrels is situated behind the front teeth. 

This muscle connects the cheek pouch and the skull. The muscle contracts, squeezing the cheek pouch and forcing the food stocked back into the mouth. 

The chipmunk stores the food it forages in its den or buries it in little holes it makes in the ground before covering them with dirt, leaves, and other debris. 

This will typically be around its burrow, so the food is nearby. Chipmunks have two methods for doing so. Either they will hoard food in a single area or disperse hoard, storing food in a slew of smaller stashes. 

Chipmunks that hoard in one central area typically spend the entire winter in their burrow and will not emerge until spring.

Benefits Of Being Able To Store Food In Cheek Pouches

There is no doubt that chipmunks benefit significantly from being able to store food in their cheeks. For starters, they have many predators. 

If necessary, chipmunks can flee from predators without losing their food. This is crucial as food is needed during winter. 

Their cheek pouches allow them to carry enormous amounts of food in one go, so they can swiftly and conveniently transport the food they collect to their caches. 

These squirrels can gather more food while foraging, thanks to their cheek pouches, than they could consume or carry at once. 

They can also cover miles in the wild by traveling with their cheeks full to avoid frequently going out and attracting predators. Chipmunks in the wild must travel great distances to get food.

Can All Chipmunks Store Food In Their Cheeks?

All kinds of chipmunks can store food in their cheeks. As chipmunks are members of the squirrel family, it is worth noting that not all squirrels have cheek pouches. 

For example, cheek pouches are absent in flying squirrels, as they typically glide rather than roam on the ground. This is possibly because food stuffed in the pouches to capacity would reduce their gliding efficiency. 

Tree squirrels lack cheek pouches as well. Ground squirrels are critters well-known for having cheek pouches. 

Ground squirrels’ cheek pouches enable them to securely hold food as they forage and bring it back to their dens for winter storage. Interestingly, it’s a common belief that they have cheek pouches as they don’t climb trees but instead burrow in long tunnels.

Do Baby Chipmunks Start Storing Food In Their Cheeks?

Baby chipmunks cannot use their cheek pouches until they start eating solid food. This usually happens when they are around a month old, at which point the adults in the group will teach them how to forage and store food in their cheeks. 

Once baby chipmunks reach four months, their cheeks can hold more significant amounts of food. By the time they reach five months, they should be able to gather and store enough food for winter.

With practice, chipmunks become adept at using their cheek pouches as a natural form of storage.

Final Word

Crafty and cunning, chipmunks have evolved a complex set of body parts that allow them to thrive in their environment. From storing food in their cheeks for wintertime sustenance, these small rodents are equipped with resources necessary for survival.

Thanks to their ability to store food in their cheeks, they can go on lengthy foraging trips without the worry of not having enough to eat. 

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