Small mammals of the Denali, Alaska region: The Arctic Ground Squirrel

The Arctic Ground Squirrel is the largest of the numerous ground squirrel species and the only one to inhabit the harsh tundra region.  It is in the rodent family, about 15″ in length and about 26 ounces in weight. The males are somewhat bigger than the females.  They are cute little animals so I was surprised to learn that the males are really quite aggressive towards each other, moreso during  breeding season, and will sometimes kill and eat the babies. This behavior is similar to their largest predator, the grizzly bear.   Because of this tendency to kill and eat their young, the females with babies will band together in groups known as kin clusters to serve as protection against this male behavior, known as infanticide.  Arctic ground squirrels mate in late April/early May, soon after waking up from their long winter’s nap.  Gestation is about 25 days and the female will then give birth to 2-10 blind, hairless, toothless babies. They mature quickly, however, and leave the den in about 10 weeks.

They are opportunistic feeders, primarily eating vegetation but will also eat invertebrates, birds and, as stated above, each other.  They cache vegetation that will be consumed upon awakening after the long winter.  During hibernation they can lose up to 1/3 of their body weight and their core temperature can drop to as low as 27 degrees.  Periodically, they awaken and shiver in order to raise their temperature and then will drop back off to sleep.  They live in burrows along tundra ridges, mountain slopes and along river flats.  They post guards along the openings to the burrows to alert others as to potential danger such as approaching predators and will make a loud whistling sound.  They move quickly, popping up and down the various openings and are quite successful at evading predators.  When my dog and I are out hiking on the tundra, she gets alot of exercise in her attempts at catching one of these tasty-looking animals.  Sometimes I  swear they are baiting her and that they are having a good time driving her to exhaustion with her frenzied attempts.  The ground squirrels are not in danger with Molly

ground squirrel standing

ground squirrel  on patrol

ground squirrels alerting

impressive display of teeth

alerting behavior

alerting behavior

ground squirrel with grasses

harvesting activity

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