How do you tell the difference between squirrels and chipmunks?
What are the differences between them, and does it really matter?
If you’ve ever wondered about any of these things . . . or more, you’re in the right place!
In this Pest Strategies comparison you can expect to learn squirrel vs chipmunk:
- Diet requirements
- Mating habits
- Lifespan and known predators
- Destructive traits
Ed has been working in the pest control industry for years helping 1,000's of homeowners navigate the world of insect and rodent management. He manages Pest Strategies now helping homeowners around the world!
Table of Contents
Squirrels and chipmunks are both members of the squirrel family – Sciuridae.
Prairie dogs, woodchucks, and marmots are all in the squirrel family too. Although squirrels and chipmunks are closely related, there are some significant differences between them.
Differences Between Their Diet
The most common variety of squirrel in North America is the gray squirrel.
They’re typically grayish rather than actually being gray. Their coat is a mixture of blacks, whites, and browns. They generally grow to around 18-20 inches long and around a pound-and-a-half in weight.
Chipmunks are tan colored with five very prominent black or dark-brown stripes running down their sides and back. They have light-colored underbellies and brown feet.
Chipmunks grow to 8-10 inches, usually on the smaller end of the scale, and weigh around 2-1/2 to 4 ounces. Their markings are very distinctive; you’ll never mistake them for a squirrel.
Differences Between Their Diets
The primary diet of most squirrels is “mast” (the fruit and nuts of trees). They prefer acorns from oak trees, nuts from beech tree, hickories, etc. Chipmunks, on the other hand, are omnivorous. They’ll eat just about anything, including garden vegetables, berries, fruit, roots, corn, seeds, and mushrooms.
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Differences Between Their Habitat
Squirrels can survive quite handily in forests, open woodlands, parklands, suburban settings, and even densely populated urban environments such as New York City.
Squirrels usually live in holes left in trees by woodpeckers, expanded them as they see fit. Their nests are packed with twigs, leaves, moss, and other materials. They prefer to live high up in trees.
Chipmunks on the other hand, live in woodland, parkland, suburban, and urban areas the same as squirrels. However, their optimal habitat is deciduous woodlands that contain a lot of stumps and logs.
Chipmunks typically live in burrows in the ground, some of which can become a complex system of tunnels and food storage areas. They usually have a central nest, filled with leaves and moss.
Differences Between Their Diets
The primary diet of most squirrels is “mast” (the fruit and nuts of trees). They prefer acorns from oak trees, nuts from beech tree, hickories, etc.
Squirrels eat other types of food such as mushrooms, flowers and buds, plant shoots, and so forth. They don’t hibernate and remain active all winter. Instead, they rely on their fat reserves and cached “mast” stores to survive the cold season.
Chipmunks, on the other hand, are omnivorous. They’ll eat just about anything, including garden vegetables, berries, fruit, roots, corn, seeds, and mushrooms.
They’ll also eat insects and earthworms, snails, bird’s eggs, frogs, salamanders, and small snakes, young birds and mics. From mid-summer to October, chipmunks gather as much food as they can, storing it in their burrows.
Although they don’t hibernate the way a bear does, they do go into a state of torpor, fluctuating back and forth between sleep and grogginess when they eat their stored supplies.
Differences Between Reproduction
Squirrels mate twice a year – once around January with a litter born sometime in March, then in May or June with the litter born in July or August.
A third mating may take place when food is particularly abundant that year. Chipmunks have much the same mating cycle.