Ground Squirrel

Ground squirrels are nimble animals that look like tiny marmots. They used to be widespread in Germany, but we haven’t had them for many decades.


What does a ground squirrel look like?

Ground squirrels are squirrels and therefore rodents. More precisely, they belong to the so-called ground squirrels and are related to the squirrels.

Ground squirrels are very slim and dainty: an adult ground squirrel measures only 19 to 22 centimeters from head to bottom. The bushy tail is 5.5 to 7.5 centimeters long. Ground squirrels weigh 240 to 340 grams. The body is strong, the legs are short and the feet have slightly curved claws.

The fur of the ground squirrel is gray-brown to yellow-grey, they are a little lighter colored on the belly. The European ground squirrel, for example, is monochromatic yellow-grey and has barely visible light spots on its fur. That is why it is also called a monochromatic or plain ground squirrel.

Other ground squirrel species are spotted on the sides of the body or have other patterns. The ears of all ground squirrels are quite small and hardly protrude from the dense fur. In return, the dark eyes are large and striking. All ground squirrels have cheek pouches in which they can store food.

Where do ground squirrels live?

Ground squirrels live in Asia and North America. Ground squirrels used to be widespread in Europe and were also found in Germany. Today they can only be found from Austria and southern Poland to the Balkans and in parts of Greece to Turkey. Ground squirrels love dry habitats that resemble a steppe. They do not like cultivated land, i.e. fields, parks, or gardens. Sometimes they can only be found in empty fields or pastures.

Ground squirrels mostly live in the lowlands, but from time to time they also populate – such as in Bulgaria – regions in the high mountains up to 2500 meters altitude.

What different types of ground squirrels are there?

There are seven different ground squirrel species in Europe and Asia and fourteen in North America. The pearl squirrel, which lives in the steppes of southern Russia, is very similar to the European ground squirrel. There is also the yellow or sand squirrel, which grows up to 38 centimeters long and lives from southern Siberia to Afghanistan.

In North America, the Californian ground squirrel, the round-tailed ground squirrel, and the striped ground squirrel are at home. The fur of the latter is patterned with up to thirteen white stripes – hence its name. Ground squirrels are closely related to marmots and prairie dogs.

How old do ground squirrels get?

Ground squirrels live eight to ten years. That is a surprisingly long time for such small animals.


How do ground squirrels live?

Although ground squirrels are very sociable and live in colonies, each animal inhabits its own underground burrow. The corridors of the squirrel burrow can reach down to a depth of one and a half meters into the earth. This protects the animals from frost and cold in winter.

In each burrow, there is a nest in which the animals sleep and also raise their young. In addition to this so-called nest chamber, there is also a special place in each burrow that the ground squirrels use as a “toilet”. In addition, the animals dig many-branched burrows around their burrow. They serve as a refuge for them and offer them protection in case of danger.

Ground squirrels are diurnal. They have very good eyesight, allowing them to quickly spot predators and birds of prey that can threaten them. Before a ground squirrel leaves its burrow in the morning, it carefully observes its surroundings. To do this, it makes “males” look far into the distance.

In case of danger, they quickly flee into their burrow. On the way there, however, they stop briefly in front of the entrance and only disappear into the protective cave at the very last moment.

Ground squirrels usually do not move more than 80 meters away from their burrow. Ground squirrels change their fur between June and early August. Because most ground squirrels live in regions with temperate or cool climates and cold winters, they hibernate to get through the cold season. In very cold areas, this hibernation can last from September to May. To do this, they close the entrances to their burrow with earth when winter sets in – just like the marmots.

Friends and foes of the ground squirrel

Predators such as weasels, stoats, polecats, and foxes as well as birds of prey such as saker falcons and buzzards are enemies of ground squirrels. But humans are also part of it: Because it was believed that ground squirrels eat the harvest from the fields, they were hunted in the past. In addition, their fur was and is coveted.

How do ground squirrels reproduce?

The breeding season for ground squirrels is from March to the end of April, right after they wake up from hibernation. The male gophers visit the females in their burrow and mate with them. About 25 to 26 days later, the females give birth to four to five young – sometimes only two, sometimes up to eleven young.

Ground squirrel babies are still completely helpless: they are naked and blind. They only open their eyes after 20 to 25 days. The ground squirrel stays with her young for the first ten days, after which she moves to a neighboring building and only comes to suckle the little ones.

After four weeks, the young leave the nest for the first time and also eat solid food. After 49 to 56 days, the young ground squirrels are independent and move into their own burrow in the same colony. They become sexually mature at about twelve months.

Mary Allen

Written by Mary Allen

Hello, I'm Mary! I've cared for many pet species including dogs, cats, guinea pigs, fish, and bearded dragons. I also have ten pets of my own currently. I've written many topics in this space including how-tos, informational articles, care guides, breed guides, and more.

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