The eastern chipmunk lives where oak trees flourish, which includes all but southwestern Minnesota. These 10-inch ground squirrels are common, conspicuous and tolerant of human observers. They hibernate, their body temperatures substantially decreasing.
Anytime after Feb. 18, and up to the first part of March, many of us are on the lookout for the first chipmunk out and about. They are usually first seen above ground during a period of warmth and melting snow. Biologists who study animal hibernation note that chipmunks hibernate for short periods of a few days. They then wake up and may eat some of their stored food, or even appear above ground if temperatures are moderate. They may end up going back into hibernation for another three or four days. Their underground pantries contain dried mushrooms, acorns and other seeds.
Tidbits of interesting chipmunk lore abound. They prefer to keep their feet dry, yet when circumstances require they can swim well. Normal longevity is probably not more than four years, though potential longevity is about eight years. Active, alert and bright, the eastern chipmunk is an independent little squirrel that does not depend too much upon its relatives. Although showing a lack of sociability with its own kind, it may become friendly with people. A chipmunk's walking speed is less than 2 mph, its trot about 5 mph, but its maximum moving speed is close to 10 mph.
Jim Gilbert's Nature Notes are heard on WCCO Radio at 7:15 a.m. Sundays. His observations have been part of the Minnesota Weatherguide Environment Calendars since 1977, and he is the author of five books on nature in Minnesota. He taught and worked as a naturalist for 50 years.