Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Chipmunks and golden-mantled ground squirrels on and around Mount Tallac

Chipmunks are a common sight along trails in the Lake Tahoe and Mt. Tallac area, including the trail from Cathedral Lake to the top of Mt. Tallac. Since nearby D. L. Bliss State Park on the southwest shore of Lake Tahoe is considered “the chipmunk capital of the world ”[1]—a moniker which only chipmunks understand—, it should come as no surprise that one encounters so many representatives of the squirrel family in these places during a summer hike. Chipmunks and squirrels are very similar. Especially the golden-mantled ground squirrel (Spermophilus lateralis) resembles an oversize chipmunk [2] and is often mistaken for one. All the squirrel species like to eat seeds, nuts, berries and insects as well as trail mix or cookie crumbles that hikers drop or leave behind. The golden-mantled ground squirrel differs from a chipmunk in not having facial stripes. It has one white stripe on each body side, which is bordered by an upper and lower black stripe. The curious little mammal in the picture, one of so many recently seen jumping the rocks and cracks of the Mt. Tallac peakscape, should be a golden-mantled ground squirrel, based on stripe counting. Whether chipmunk or squirrel, they were all cute and attracted the attention of hikers, who foremost climbed to this spot for the vistas of the Sierra Nevada and Lake Tahoe.

References and further reading
[1] Tom Stienstra:
California WildlifeA Practical Guide. Avalon Travel Publishing, Inc., Eneryville, California, USA, 2000.
[2] Peter Alden and Fred Heath:
Field Guide to California. Chanticleer Press, Inc., New York, 1998.

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