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Chipmunk vs. Squirrel: What’s The Difference

If you’ve ever encountered a chipmunk or squirrel in the wild, you may already know that these two creatures look incredibly similar.

Despite their similarities, several key differences between the two animals set them apart.

Squirrels and chipmunks are two different species of animals in the rodent family Sciuridae. Even though they may look similar, their size, diet, habitat, and behavior can help you identify which one you are looking at.

The most obvious difference between a squirrel and a chipmunk is size. Chipmunks are much smaller than squirrels, ranging from 6 to 10 inches long, while ground squirrels can grow up to 15 inches in length.

Additionally, chipmunks are usually brown and white with black stripes down their backs, while squirrels come in a variety of colors, including red, grey, and even black. 

These differences are just a few that set chipmunks and squirrels apart. Let’s take a closer look at other ways these two animals differ from one another.

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Key Pest Points

• Chipmunks are much smaller than squirrels and can be identified by their brown and white fur with black stripes.

• The diet of chipmunks consists mainly of fruits, vegetables, insects, and nuts, while squirrels will eat almost anything they can find.

• Chipmunks are shy and will hide when humans approach them, whereas squirrels won’t hesitate to come out for food.

Squirrel vs. Chipmunk: Behavior

Observing the behavior of chipmunks and squirrels in the wild is one of the best ways to distinguish between these two animals.

three squirrels on a tree

Squirrel Behavior

Most squirrels are not nocturnal, except for some species like the flying squirrel, which means that they are awake during the day and spend most of their time foraging for food or burying it in caches around their territory.

They tend to be quite social, often living in groups and interacting with one another.

A study has also found that golden-mantled ground squirrels have four personality traits: aggressiveness, sociability, activity level, and boldness.

These traits can vary from one animal to the next and significantly impact their behavior.

These animals are also excellent climbers, using their sharp claws and strong legs to scale trees easily. Squirrels have even been known to use their agility and speed to evade predators.

Chipmunk Behavior

Chipmunks are diurnal, meaning that they are up during the day and rest at night.

But unlike squirrels, chipmunks do not tend to be quite social and only interact with others during the spring when it is mating season.

Chipmunks are also incredibly agile climbers and can easily scale trees with their claws. However, they tend to stay closer to the ground and prefer burrowing in holes or dens instead of living in trees as squirrels do.

Furthermore, chipmunks are valuable ecosystem players because of their varied diets and active digging. They spread seeds, aerate soils, and microorganisms that supply tree roots with nutrients.

Squirrel vs. Chipmunk: Diet

The diet of a chipmunk or squirrel can also be a helpful indicator of which animal you are observing.

Squirrel Diet

Most squirrels have omnivorous diets, meaning they feed on plants and animals. Their primary diet consists of fruits, nuts, seeds, fungi, and the occasional insect or small rodent.

However, squirrels have been known to enjoy other foods such as mushrooms, berries, vegetables, bird eggs, and even human food scraps!

Their sense of smell is critical in helping them locate food sources, and they will sniff out and dig up even buried food.

They can even smell the pheromones of other squirrels to find out where they have stored their food caches.

In urban areas, these animals are often seen raiding discarded food from garbage cans or bird feeders. So it is no surprise that squirrels are considered pests who are constant visitors to parks and gardens.

chipmunk eating a fruit

Chipmunk Diet

Similar to squirrels, the diet of a chipmunk is also omnivorous. However, chipmunks tend to have the majority of their diet from fruits, seeds, and nuts. Chipmunks also enjoy snacking on insects, worms, and bird eggs.

These animals are also quite crafty when it comes to foraging for food. They will often hide their stash in their cheeks and carry them to their burrows for later use.

One 4-ounce chipmunk can store around 8 pounds of food in a productive year. So it is no wonder chipmunks are considered the ultimate hoarders!

Squirrel vs. Chipmunk: Size

The size of a squirrel or chipmunk can also be an important factor when trying to distinguish between these animals.

Squirrel Size

Since there are many different species of squirrels, they can range in size from 7 cm to more than 50 cm. They generally have bushy tails that are around 12-20 cm long.

The smallest of all the squirrels is the aptly named African pygmy squirrel which grows from 7 – 13 centimeters and can weigh just 10 grams.

The largest squirrel species is the Indian or the Malabar giant squirrel, which grows to an impressive 1 m long, and two third of that length is just from their long tail.

Chipmunk Size

On the other hand, Chipmunks tend to be much smaller than their squirrel cousins. Most chipmunks are between 4 to 7 inches long and weigh around 1 to 5 ounces, which is about a quarter of the size of a squirrel.

Chipmunks also have smaller tails, typically ranging from 3 to 5 inches in length.

So when you’re out in nature trying to spot these animals, keep an eye out for their size differences, and you can tell them apart easily!

Squirrel vs. Chipmunk: Habitat

There are also specific differences in where these animals decide to call home. So when you find them in your yard or out in the wild, take note of where they live.

Squirrel sitting in its nest, the hole in the tree.

Ground Squirrel Habitat

Ground squirrels, the most common type, are found in many habitats, including grasslands, woodlands, deserts, and even backyards.

They prefer to live in areas with moderate climates and plenty of food sources which is why they are commonly found near residential areas or farms. They typically inhabit burrows made in the ground or hollow trees.

Chipmunk Habitat

Chipmunks prefer densely vegetated habitats that are far away from large predators such as coyotes, wolves, and foxes. They usually stick to heavily wooded areas like forests, wetlands, and suburban gardens.

Unlike squirrels who live in burrows and trees, some chipmunks usually prefer to live in rock crevices, while others live in burrows under thick vegetation.

How Can Squirrels and Chipmunks Damage Your Yard and Garden

Don’t be fooled by the cute appearance of these animals. Squirrels and chipmunks can cause lots of havoc in your lawn and garden.

squirrel digging a whole in the lawn

Squirrel Damage

  • Ground squirrels are known for digging up gardens, decks, and patios in search of their favorite food sources like bulbs, tubers, and roots or to hide their stash of food.

  • They can also chew on wooden beams, wires, and insulation, which can pose a fire hazard if they come in contact with electricity.

  • They will feed on bird seed from bird feeders or steal fruit from trees and vegetables from gardens.

  • The nests they construct can block gutters, which could lead to water damage in your home.
chipmunk eating bird seeds

Chipmunk Damage

  • Chipmunks can wreak havoc in your garden by eating the seeds, berries, and nuts you may have planted.

  • They also hoard large caches of food, which can attract other pests like mice or rats.

  • Chipmunks also love to dig burrows in the ground, which can ruin your lawn and create an uneven appearance.

It’s crucial to be aware of the signs that these animals are in your yard and take the needed steps to protect your home and garden.

If you see squirrels or chipmunks around, it might be a good idea to call a wildlife professional for help.

How To Get Rid of Squirrels and Chipmunks In Your Yard

If you find that squirrels or chipmunks have become a nuisance in your backyard, there are some practical ways to get rid of them.

1. Remove any food sources that might attract them: Keep your garbage cans tightly sealed, remove bird feeders from your yard and clean any vegetables or fruits that may have fallen off plants.

2. Use scent repellent or automation: Spraying a scent repellent such as peppermint oil or setting up motion-activated sprinklers, which will scare them away.

3. Install fences: Installing a fence around your yard will prevent them from getting to the food sources in your garden. Make sure to use fencing at least 30 inches high, as these critters are excellent climbers!

triming shrubs with large scissors

4. Trim trees and shrubs: By trimming the vegetation in your yard, you will reduce the number of hiding places these animals can take shelter in.

5. Call a wildlife control professional: If all other methods fail, you can always contact a wildlife control professional who can humanely remove any squirrels or chipmunks from your yard.

Following these steps will help you keep your yard free from squirrels and chipmunks, ensuring you can enjoy a productive year of gardening or outdoor activities.

FAQs About Squirrels and Chipmunks

There are many similarities between squirrels and chipmunks, but there are still many differences that can help you identify these animals in the wild. Here are some FAQs to help you know more about them:

What are the signs that squirrels and chipmunks are in my yard? 

The most common sign of a squirrel or chipmunk infestation is the presence of burrows, nests, droppings, or tracks around your yard.

You may also see them scurrying around during the day, especially if they are searching for food.

Are squirrels and chipmunks dangerous?

While these animals may look cute and harmless, they can be a nuisance in your yard if not dealt with properly.

They can chew on wires or insulation, dig burrows in your lawn, steal fruits from plants, hoard large caches of food that could attract other pests, or block gutters.

But they are not dangerous and can be removed humanely with the help of a wildlife control professional.

Are Squirrels and Chipmunks the Same Species?

No, squirrels and chipmunks are not the same species. Although they both belong to the rodent family Sciuridae, they differ in size, diet, habitat, and behavior.

Squirrels tend to be larger than chipmunks. They also prefer open spaces with moderate temperatures, while chipmunks typically live in more densely vegetated areas.

Do Squirrels Mate With Chipmunks?

No, squirrels and chipmunks do not mate with each other. As they are two distinct species, their reproductive systems are incompatible, and mating between them is not possible.

Are Chipmunks Squirrels?

No, chipmunks are not squirrels. Chipmunks and squirrels belong to different species within the same family.

They may look alike, but they have distinct characteristics that make them unique from each other.

Chipmunks are smaller than squirrels and have more rounded ears than their pointy-eared cousins. They also prefer different habitats and have distinct dietary needs.

Why Are Chipmunks Called Ground Squirrels?

Chipmunks are sometimes called ground squirrels because they live in burrows and crevices dug into the ground.

Unlike their tree-dwelling cousins, chipmunks prefer to inhabit areas with plenty of cover and vegetation, which is why they make their homes on the ground.

Their burrows provide them with protection from predators and the elements.

Do Chipmunks and Squirrels Get Along?

In general, chipmunks and squirrels are more likely to ignore each other than to interact. Occasionally, they may feed in the same area.

However, they are unlikely to form any meaningful relationship. This is because they are two distinct species with different needs and behavior.

Understanding the differences between ground squirrels and chipmunks can help you identify these animals when you see them in the wild.

Knowing their preferred habitats, diets, sizes, and behaviors will make it easier to tell one from the other.

So if you see these pests in your yard, make sure you know exactly who they are before you try to get rid of them.


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