I spent the week in Minneapolis, Minnesota! I attended the International Society for Behavioral Ecology Conference, a meeting where animal scientists 🦁🐝🐍🤓from around the world 🌎meet to share their research 🔬⚗📈.
In honor of my trip ✈️, today’s Sunday Squirrel Spotlight star 🐿🌟 is the thirteen-lined ground squirrel (Spermophilus iridecemlineatus)! These squirrels are abundant in Minnesota and can be found on grasslands and prairies 🌾.
Thirteen-lined ground squirrels have quite a few nicknames, including the striped gopher and the leopard ground squirrel. These elaborately decorated cuties live solitary lives in burrows deep underground that they also use for food storage and hibernation. These sneaky squirrels have also been observed creating “emergency burrows”, or shallow holes in the ground that can be used to make quick escapes from snakes 🐍and falcons 🐦.
Thirteen-lined ground squirrels are tasty snacks 🍗🍕 for birds of prey like owls, as well as coyotes and snakes. When they are above ground foraging it is important for individuals to be able to accurately read signals from the environment , because potential danger may be lurking 👀.
To keep safe these striped squirrels have two primary strategies. First, they tend to forage close to burrow entrances. This allows them to make quick escapes if a predator shows up. Second, thirteen-lined ground squirrels will visually scan their environment looking for predators 🐍👀.
One study found that these squirrels preferred not to forage further than 2 meters (6 feet) from a burrow entrance, and the presence of a plastic owl in the area resulted in squirrels foraging less and hiding more.
Thirteen-lined ground squirrels are solitary and do not always warn others when they detect predators. Mother squirrels however, have been found to sound the alarm by calling to their foraging babies. These same squirrels will not call if their litter is not out foraging and single males and non-breeding females tend to alarm call less.
Here is a short video demonstrating this alarm calling behavior!
Cleary & Craven, 1994; Thorson et. al., 1998; Schwagmeyer, 1980