Chipmunks belong to the genus Tamias that is Greek for “storer”. In addition, these ground dwelling squirrel like rodents are great at storing food, and really live up to their name.
Except for the Siberian, chipmunk (found in Asia) all other chipmunk species are endemic to North America.
The Eastern chipmunk is now the only living member of its Tamias genus, and gets its name from the Odawa word ajidamoonh, which means “one who descends trees headlong”. The name ‘chipmunk’ came because of the chipping noises they make with their teeth.
It has reddish brown fir on its upper body with five very dark almost black stripes that run down its back to the end of its tail. It has yellowish-brown stripes running near its whiskers to just below its ears and light stripes over its eyes.
The Eastern chipmunk that prefers to live in the Eastern parts of America and the Southern parts of Canada, mostly in rocky and shrubby areas has developed many behavioral adaptation that allow him to live quite comfortably in his habitat. Sometimes they have even been found in suburban areas, fitting well into the eco system.
Eastern chipmunks are as their name suggests food gatherers. They prefer to rest during the day but are most active during the mornings and late afternoons. They are omnivores, feeding on a variety of nuts, insect and bird eggs, grains, berries, seeds, and even salamanders, and bugs.
They have adapted to carrying and storing these foods in a special cheek pouch. It is assumed that these creatures can carry about nine nuts in its mouth at a time.
This makes them valuable members of the deciduous ecosystem too because it means that they carry and store seeds in many places underground.
An interesting factor is that the population of (Eastern) chipmunks rises and falls depending on the availability of food. However, it also means that the population of predators that feed on them, like foxes, coyotes, owls, and other birds rise and fall too.
These animals hibernate, although not deeply. They prefer warmer weather, and so they come out of their light hibernations in about March.
They are great builders, making burrows in solid places like stonewalls and other places that predators cannot access easily. The entrances to these fortresses are always well hidden and the insides of its main nesting chamber are lined with leaves to provide warmth. Spreading away from the main chamber there are sub chambers where he stores his food.
These elaborate chambers and the concept of storing food has led to an increase in their survival rate as they can adapt to the winter well.
These creatures do not like to stay out in the open, perhaps for fear of being hunted, and therefore have adapted to this feeling by staying under the cover of plants when possible.
The Eastern chipmunk has some physical adaptations too. It has a big black tail that provides balance when it is running up and down trees, by sticking straight up in the air.