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Mammals
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Eastern Chipmunk

A Chipmunk Cam features 24-7 access to our Eastern Chipmunk exhibit. Watch our LIVE CHIPMUNK CAM now!

If you have ever hiked in northern, central or western Virginia you have probably encountered one of our more interesting and entertaining mammals, the Eastern Chipmunk (Tamias striatus). The Latin name means striped storer. Baby boomers may recall Alvin and the Chipmunks, the delightful animated singing group from the 60s. Real chipmunks don’t really sing and they have never been seen wearing a sweater, however they do make chattering calls to communicate with each other and have unusual markings. In fact their common name comes from the thrilling chip-chip-chip rapidly repeated sound that they vocalize when alarmed.

This ground dwelling squirrel is identified by its reddish brown fur, white belly and black and white stripes. It has a short, pointy-head marked with two white stripes, one above and one below the eye. According to Native American lore, the chipmunk’s stripes represent scars this cocky animal received when it teased a bear one too many times. The most distinctive characteristic of this rodent is its cheek pouches. Chipmunks use the pouches to store and carry food. They can empty their pouches quickly by squeezing them with their front feet!

Chipmunks are found in northern, central and western Virginia. The closest they come to the Peninsula is the Richmond area. They live in open deciduous forests and at the edges of woodlands. They can also be found on rocky hillsides and living in crevices of stone walls. Diet consists of grains, acorns, nuts, berries, seeds, mushrooms and the occasional insect or salamander. They are valuable little mammals because they move seeds around and store them in their burrows. Some of these seeds sprout and become new trees. Chipmunks are also an important food source for bigger mammals such as foxes, bobcats, raccoons, coyotes and a variety of birds of prey.

Eastern Chipmunks will usually mate twice a year, in the spring and fall. In their world there are no lifelong relationships or monogamy. Females will often mate with several males and the deadbeat dads have no further contact with mom or the babies. Two to five babies are born blind and hairless. Their eyes open after 30 days and they emerge from their burrow in about six weeks.

The chipmunk’s burrow system is crucial for its survival especially during the winter. The burrows have many entrances and the chipmunks create separate tunnels for storing food, sleeping and relieving themselves. Their handy cheek pouches are also used for burrow excavation. Chipmunks don’t truly hibernate in the winter, but wake up every few weeks to snack. On warm winter days they will leave the burrow and forage for food.

Some folks think chipmunks are a nuisance species because they will eat newly planted flower bulbs and dig under patios, stairs and foundations causing structural damage. The Virginia Living Museum’s chipmunk exhibit is located upstairs in our Piedmont/Mountain gallery. The habitat represents a stone wall from a mountain farm. Like most of our exhibit and program animals our chipmunks are non-releasable due to extended contact with humans and in this case also vision impairment.