February is Ground Squirrel month here at Calgary Wildlife!
Since Groundhog Day falls this month, it's the perfect time to talk about all things ground squirrel.
This month we will be posting all about GROUND SQUIRRELS for your awareness and learning pleasure, including how these little members of our prairies don't quite get the appreciation they deserve.
Many people know ground squirrels by the moniker "gopher", but did you know that there are five different species of ground squirrels here in Alberta?
The most commonly known ground squirrel species is the Richardson's Ground Squirrel, these are the "gophers" we see here in Calgary among our urban developments and communities.
While the other, lesser known species are:
- Columbian ground squirrel
- Franklin's ground squirrel
- Thirteen lines ground squirrel
- Golden-mantled ground squirrel
Fun fact: Golden-mantled ground squirrels are often confused as chunky chipmunks, as they have similar body stripes. The best way to tell them apart is their size, as chipmunks are much smaller, and golden-mantled ground squirrels don't have stripes on their faces.
Stay tuned for more information about these scurrying squirrels, coming all this month.
This week, let's talk about our most notorious ground squirrel - the Richardson's ground squirrel! These ground squirrels are the ones most often referred to as "gophers" here in Alberta and the species that is most persecuted, despite their status as a "keystone" species.
While frequently disliked by many all over our province for their burrow digging and grass eating behaviours, understanding and tolerance are key as ground squirrels are considered a keystone species. These little rodents are a vital part of the food chain and eradicating an entire population would have a drastic effect on numerous other species, including endangered species.
For example, the Ferruginous Hawk is an endangered species and feeds primarily on ground squirrels. Thus reducing the ground squirrel population will have severe consequences for the hawks. Other species that rely on Richardson's ground squirrels for food include owls, coyotes, foxes, weasels, badgers, and hawks.
Did you know that Richardson’s ground squirrels are true winter hibernators? They begin hibernation as early as July and emerge as late as March, often coming above ground for only around 105 days. Considering their importance in the prairie food chain and the amount of time they spend sleeping, it is very important that we leave their habitat undisturbed to keep the cycle running smoothly! So leave those burrows as you found them and let the little guys rest until next season.