Rock Squirrel: Characteristics
Rock squirrels are one of the largest members of the Sciuridae family, growing to nearly a foot in length, not including their long, bushy tails which are nearly as long as their bodies. In front and on top, their coat is a speckled grayish-brown; in the back, and on the bottom the gray becomes a more mottled brownish black tone. They have a marked light colored ring around their eyes, and pointy ears that project well above their heads. When alarmed they whistle a short, sharp oscillating call. The rock squirrel is a large ground squirrel that is 17-21 inches in length. It is mottled gray on its upper sides with a brownish rump and creamy white on its undersides. It has a long bushy tail with white edges. The female rock squirrel has two litters a year with three to nine young in each litter. The first litter is born between April and June and the second litter is born between August and September, (Nature Works)
Rock Squirrel: Burrows and Behaviors
Burrows dug with their sharp claws and muscular legs shelter them, providing safety, living space and food storage. Burrow systems can be complex and lengthy, enlarged over years. Entrances are usually hidden beneath rocks and can be greater than 3 inches in width. Rock squirrels in the northern reach of their habitat hibernate in their burrows during the colder months of the year. In southern areas, rock squirrels may not hibernate at all. They are active in the early morning and late afternoons when it is warm - when very hot, they may estivate. They are social, and live in colonies with several females and one dominant male that will fight other mature males to protect the group. There may be subordinate males at the outer boundaries of the group. (Desert USA)
Rock Squirrel: Diet
The rock squirrel is predominantly an herbivore, eating mostly leaves, stems and seeds. They also eat acorns, pine nuts, and fruits of many native plants including cacti. Occasionally, they might consume insects or the eggs of small nesting birds. The rock squirrel has also been known to eat their own kind, devouring the remains of squirrels that are already dead (Marsh, 2). The rock squirrel’s diet changes with the seasons, accustoming itself to what is available locally (Oaks, 5).
Rock Squirrel: Survival Techniques
Rock squirrels create burrows for both shelter and safety. The burrows are long and complex, built with numerous entrances and the squirrels are sure to leave them open in case of an emergency. They are also quick on their feet and great climbers. Rock squirrels also hibernate during the winter or estivate in the summer if temperatures are too high (Marsh, 2). They can withstand long periods of time without water, some even up to 100 days (Oaks, 5).
- Linzey, A. V., Timm, R., Álvarez-Castañeda, S. T., Castro-Arellano, I. & Lacher, T. (2008). Spermophilus variegatus. In: IUCN 2008. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Retrieved 8 January 2009.
- Helgen, Kristofer M.; Cole, F. Russel; Helgen, Lauren E.; and Wilson, Don E (2009). "Generic Revision in the Holarctic Ground Squirrel Genus Spermophilus". Journal of Mammalogy 90 (2): 270–305. doi:10.1644/07-MAMM-A-309.1. Archived from the original (PDF) on 22 October 2011.
"Rock Squirrel - Spermophilus Variegatus." Rock Squirrel. N.p., n.d. Web. 14 May 2015. “Rock Squirrel." S. N.p., n.d. Web. 14 May 2015.
Belding’s, California, and Rock Ground Squirrels by Rex E. Marsh Mamallian Species by Emily C. Oaks
- Smithsonian rock squirrel article
- The American Society of Mammalogists species account
- Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum
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