Wednesday, August 20, 2008

A Turkey Perspective, Thirteen Lined Ground Squirrel, Brewer's Blackbird Rides Hawk, Dr. Irene Pepperberg Coming to NYC

A Turkey Perspective-photo by Bob McCargar

I asked photographer Bob McCargar just what kind of neighborhood the Berkley urban turkeys were foraging in, and here's the answer. The vegetation looks quit lush and I'm betting there are many turkey tasty tidbits amongst the vegetation.

I looked out under the feeder today as I was passing by, and thought, "Oh there's Chewy." Then, "No it's NOT. That's no Chipmunk, that's a Thirteen lined Ground Squirrel. A first for the Rainbow Drive feeder. What's he doing here?"

Not that Wisconsin isn't full of Spermophilus tridecemlineatus. There are no worries about their conservation status, but one just doesn't usually see them browsing on the patio. Here is their scientific classification courtesy of Wikipedia.

S. tridecemlineatus

The answer to the question, "How do you tell the difference between a Thirteen Lined Ground Squirrel and a Chipmunk?", is often answered around here with--"Chipmunks climb trees and Ground Squirrels don't". Well, yeah, but with that ID you have to wait around for somebody to clumb a tree. Personally, I don't really think they look alike at all. The GS has clear multiple stripes, while the Chipmunk doesn't. Not only do their ears look totally different but most everything else as well looks different.

See? Now of course they're both little rodenty guys, but the Chipmunk runs with his tail up, the Ground Squirrel doesn't. Okay, they both have rather slanted ovid eyes, they're small and reddish brown but that's about it.

Note he's stuffing his pouches. According to the literature, this time of year is when they start fattening themselves up for hibernation in a big way and also stash a little food in their burrows for possible snacking.
By the way, this guy can run at 8MPH, which is a good many rodent steps per minute. There also seems to be quite the difference between a small member of the species and the larger ones.

Biological statistics
6¾–11⅝ inches (170–297 mm)
2⅜–5¼ inches (60–132 mm)
1–1⅝ inches (27–41 mm)
3⅞–9½ oz (110–270 g)
Courtesy of Wikipedia

Some GS's weigh three times more than others do.

I decided that his name was Pancake, for obvious reasons. Look how he flattens himself as he forages. Their home range is 2 to 4 acres. They live and hibernate in extensive burrows and eat weed seeds, grass, insects, grasshoppers, and caterpillars. Plus they might also eat the errant shrew or mouse plus possibly bird flesh when it's handy. ( And here I thought they were straight grainivores.)

I noticed that The Genome Project had finished the genomes of Thirteen Lined Ground Squirrels. First question, "Why them?"

Here's the answer--"Although rodents represent nearly half of all mammal species, their genomic diversity is represented by only two relatively closely related species - mouse and rat. The genome of the thirteen-lined ground squirrel will expand rodent sequence diversity to another family within the suborder sciurognathi. The other distant branch of the rodent tree, the suborder hystricognathi, will be represented by the guinea pig, Cavia porcellus, genome sequencing project. "

They were chosen as a representative. Here's the lineage courtesy of The Genome Project.
Spermophilus tridecemlineatus

And as one might intuit, they're distantly related to the mouse and the rat.

Pancake wasn't particularly cooperative about giving me a view in which you could count the stripes. Here's the best effort.

A head's up from long time Hawkwatcher Katherine Herzog: Dr. Irene Pepperberg, of The Alex Foundation, one of the giants in animal intelligence and communication will be speaking at the 92nd Street Y at 7:30, on November 2nd.

Photo courtesy of the San Francisco Chronicle
(Brewer's Blackbird harasses hawk much the same way the Red-wings do it here in Wisconsin.)
Thanks to R. of Illinois for the link.
Donegal Browne


bobdmac0 said...


Just so you know, ground squirrels an a motorcycle-riding animal lover's nightmare. They hang out by the side of the rural roads and wait until you're almost on top of them to make a mad dash across the street, as if they were part of some animal version of a kamikaze cult.

If you hit one in a curve, you could lose traction on a wheel and go down. On straightaways, they endanger only themselves, but in either case, all you can do is hope that you don't hear the sound of it passing under your wheel.

On a recent ride to Southern California, along a stretch of Highway 25 out of Hollister (which passes the eastern entrance to the Pinnacles, home of some California condors), it seemed as if they were stationed at quarter-mile intervals. As far as I know, I've only hit one in six trips over that route, but it's still tough to take.

Don't get me started on deer, however.

Eleanor, NYC said...

Pakcake looks like he rolled in some weird tire tracks.

Donegal Browne said...


Or some weird tire rolled over him. :-)

Donegal Browne said...

Speaking of which, Bob, I'd no idea that they were dangerous to cyclists. The literature does report that thousands and thousands of them are hit on U.S. roads every year.

I wonder if it has anything to do with a wired in response of Thirteen Lined Ground Squirrels. When chased they change direction, ie. they run toward the chaser when the chaser gets near.

Therefore it could be that it isn't that it just seems like the T.L.G.S.'s dart out when a motorcycle comes near, they are responding in their ground squirrel way which doesn't work out at all well with motorized vehicles.

As to deer, I never drive over 40MPH in rural WI at dusk and after. I'm constantly scanning for them but have still had some close calls. Thank goodness both they, me, and the car have so far remained unscathed. Knock wood.

cvinzant said...

Wow, that's a neat sighting! I've never seen a 13-lined ground squirrel, only heard of them. I love the name pancake. One of my favorite groups on Flickr is called Squirrel Pancakes for shots of squirrels pancaking themselves, which they love to do on hot summer days.

Donegal Browne said...


Alright! Glad you liked the TLGS. Today I finally saw Pancake go into the burrow I'd suspected he'd taken over. I'll see if I can get a photo up of it tonight. Previously the burrow had belonged to a shrew but suddenly it had gotten much bigger. I think Shrew went back to her old burrow under the grapevine.

Chewy the Chipmunk is still holding his burrow which goes under the driveway. I suspect it may stay drier with a concrete roof.

Anonymous said...

Actually, the thirteen lined ground squirrel was chosen for the Genome Project because of it's unusual ability to hibernate. This is important because it may provide insight as to how humans survive falling into cold water for an hour and end up surviving somehow, without brain damage. Also, it may help explain why induced hypothermia is a useful tool during open heart surgeries.