What is more adorable than a California ground squirrel?
A baby California ground squirrel!
Most California ground squirrel populations breed only once a year in the springtime, right around the time they emerge from their burrows after hibernating through the cold winter months.
Excitingly, in warmer places like Southern California these squirrels tend not to hibernate and have been found to breed all year long! This is great news for Squirrel Gazer because there are a ton of cute baby squirrels running around the James Reserve where our research is being conducted!
Grace is one of the resident ground squirrel mothers on the reserve. She can often be seen watching her 3 young pups foraging from the comfort of her burrow entrance.
California ground squirrels moms are pregnant for about one month. Females will give birth to a litter consisting of an average 5 pups. After about 5 weeks living exclusively in their burrow, these tiny cheeky squirrels will emerge to explore the world above ground.
Ground squirrels like Grace are notoriously good mothers. Rattlesnakes find squirrels to be a tasty snack and ground squirrel mothers will take big risks to protect their offspring from becoming lunch. Female ground squirrels with vulnerable offspring are more likely than other adult squirrels to participate in “anti-snake behavior”. This behavior includes wagging their tail in the air (tail flagging) to help them appear larger and harassing the snake by approaching it and kicking dirt towards it. This is an overly simplified description of a very cool and complex behavior for which there is a large body of scientific literature on. I will discuss in more detail in a future Ground Squirrel vs. Rattlesnake blog post!
We do not microchip youngsters for our study to prevent unnecessary stress to them or their mothers, but that does not stop these mischievous little scurides from setting off the body heat sensors in the feeder and enjoying an afternoon snack! We don’t mind though...it makes for great squirrel snack footage!
(Evans & Holdenried, 1943); (Grinnell, 1918); (Swaisgood, Rowe, & Owings, 2003)