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Backyard critters -- they're everywhere, and you don't always know exactly what they are. Knowing a chipmunk vs. squirrel will help you identify which ones live in your backyard, which is vital if they're causing problems for you. Chipmunks and squirrels love to get into trouble in yards, and your yard is probably no exception.
You might have noticed they're making a mess of your garden or lawn, or eating the bark off your trees. Maybe you've discovered a nest in your attic, and you're wondering which critter made it.
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But how do you tell the difference between chipmunks and squirrels? Fortunately, the chipmunk vs. squirrel debate doesn't have to remain a mystery.
If you have a yard or have ever been to a park, chances are you’ve seen squirrels or chipmunks. They’re quite common all across North America.
While there are many different species of squirrel, you can put them into three distinct groups: flying, tree, and ground. Flying squirrels and tree squirrels look and act very differently from chipmunks, but ground squirrels look similar to chipmunks.
That may be where some confusion comes from.
In fact, some argue that chipmunks are merely a type of ground squirrel. They’re both members of the squirrel family, which is why some think that chipmunks are just another type of squirrel.
However, there are distinct differences that will help you identify chipmunks vs. squirrels.
Both of these critters can be useful to us. For instance, chipmunks eat insects, which helps reduce the number of annoying bugs around. Both squirrels and chipmunks also eat seeds that fall from trees and other plants, which can help you keep your yard clean and free of certain weeds.
That also means that they’re beneficial to the environment. Moving and storing seeds as they do helps to promote the growth and health of forests.
However, they’re also pests, and squirrels are worse than chipmunks. They ransack your gardens, eating flower buds and shoots, and digging up bulbs. They even strip the bark off your trees. If you have bird feeders, you’ve probably seen squirrels eating the seeds out of them, too.
Worse, they often find their way into lofts and attics and build nests, creating an indoor pest problem for you.
Chipmunks don’t cause the same amount of destruction to your yard, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t pests, too. They likewise eat your seeds and bulbs, but they're less likely to enter your house to build their nests.
So what does all of this mean?
It means that if you’re having problems with these critters and you don’t know which is which, you’ll have a harder time dealing with them.
Now that you know why you should understand chipmunks vs. squirrels, it’s time to learn how to tell the difference between these two critters.
Markings are one good way to tell one species from another, including when it comes to chipmunks vs. squirrels:
Chipmunks have very defined stripes that are black and white. Tree squirrels and flying squirrels generally don’t have any stripes. Squirrels tend to appear brown, grayish, or charcoal in color. Chipmunks usually have a golden-brown appearance in addition to the stripes.
So if you’re wondering whether you’re looking at a chipmunk or a squirrel, look for stripes and at their coloring.
Another significant way you can tell chipmunks vs. squirrels is their size. Squirrels are bigger than chipmunks. While ground squirrels and chipmunks are roughly the same size, tree squirrels can be considerably larger than chipmunks.
Generally, tree squirrels are 12 to 20 inches long, including their tails. Ground squirrels are 8 to 12 inches, and chipmunks can be a tiny 6 inches in length or as much as 12 inches in length.
In some regions, tree squirrels just look downright huge for a rodent!
Where do these creatures live? Earlier, we said that they live everywhere, and for North America, that’s true. Chipmunk vs. squirrel doesn’t matter much when we’re talking about North America. Their presence is ubiquitous, which is why there aren’t many people who have never seen at least one.
However, chipmunks are unique to North America, except for one species that lives in northeast Asia. Recently, though, they’ve been introduced into a few other areas.
Squirrels live all over the world except for Australia and Antarctica. If you’re traveling abroad, you may see squirrels, but it’s unlikely you’ll see chipmunks.
Some people might think that squirrels and chipmunks both hibernate for the winter. That isn’t true. Chipmunks hibernate, but squirrels don’t. If you live in a cold climate, you’ve probably noticed squirrels out and about even when it’s cold enough for snow.
Chipmunks create nests underground, making it so they can hibernate. However, they don’t sleep straight through the winter. Instead, they sleep for a few days at a time and then wake up to eat from their stored food and bring their body temperatures up to normal.
Chipmunks also urinate and defecate during their waking periods. Then they go back to sleep for another few days and do it all over again.
In other words, you’ll see squirrels around during the winter, but not chipmunks.
When thinking about chipmunks vs. squirrels, you should keep in mind that not everything about them is different. There are similarities, some of which we’ve already mentioned above.
For instance, look at their diets. Chipmunks and squirrels eat seeds, leaves, twigs, buds, nuts, and more. Chipmunks tend to stick to smaller versions of these things than squirrels because they’re smaller animals.
Their diets are not identical, though. Chipmunks are omnivores. In addition to everything listed above, they also eat insects, frogs, bird eggs, and even baby birds.
Squirrels are herbivores, and their diets consist almost entirely of plants. They might eat the occasional caterpillar, and they might turn to meat if their regular food has become too scarce. But that’s not their food of choice.
So, you might see chipmunks eating insects and tiny animals, but you generally won’t see squirrels eating them.
Okay, everything discussed so far is all well and good, but what are some quick and easy ways to distinguish chipmunks vs. squirrels?
In addition to having stripes on their backs, chipmunks have defined stripes on their faces. These markings are unique to them and are a surefire way to tell chipmunks vs. squirrels.
Ground squirrels have stripes on their backs but not on their faces, although they do have rings around their eyes. Most tree squirrels and flying squirrels don’t have stripes, but they, too, may have rings around their eyes.
If you’re not sure you’re looking at a squirrel or a chipmunk, look at the markings on its face. That will tell you what you’re seeing.
One straightforward way to differentiate chipmunks vs. squirrels is their tails. Squirrels have long, bushy tails. They tend to mold those very fluffy tails to their backs when they eat and let their tails stream behind them in a horizontal position when they run.
Chipmunks have long tails as well, but they aren’t nearly as bushy as those of squirrels. Chipmunks also run with their tails straight up in the air. It looks rather amusing, actually.
Simply put, chipmunks burrow while squirrels (except ground squirrels) make their homes in trees. Squirrels live everywhere, including densely populated areas of major cities. Even in cities, they live up in trees, including inside holes that woodpeckers make.
Chipmunks live in most of the same areas as squirrels, but they live in underground burrows, not trees. Those burrows can turn into complex tunnel systems, making them harder to find than squirrels.
In the wild, chipmunks like deciduous forest land that has a lot of stumps and logs, and they'll dig their burrows there. Squirrels like open woodlands where they can climb up high to build their nests.
Telling chipmunks vs. squirrels isn't difficult once you know what to look for. They have some pretty distinct differences that make it easy to tell them apart. That means you can determine which critters are in your yards, your trees, and even in your house. You can also find ways of handling problems when you know the differences between them.
Finally, being able to tell chipmunks vs. squirrels helps if you're looking for them in the wild, like when you're out hiking.
There are lots of reasons to understand the differences between chipmunks and squirrels, and you should take advantage of that knowledge. You might even have some fun with it.
Do you have any tips on how to tell the difference between chipmunk vs. squirrel? Let us know in the comments section.
My name is Emily Taylor, gardening is my passion and I’m looking forward to sharing it with everyone. I know that there are millions of people out there want their backyard and garden be attractive just like their front yard, so I am here to help you create your own backyard paradise.