We weren’t stopped more than a minute, packs barely off our backs and on the ground when they descended. Darn little chippies! Wait a second – that’s not a chipmunk, it’s a ground squirrel.
A golden-mantled ground squirrel to be precise. How can I tell? No stripes on the head. Both chipmunks and several species of ground squirrels have racing stripes running down their backs, but only chipmunks have them carry through to the head.
And the reason I got close enough to make this identification is not because I’m a ground squirrel whisperer, or have a super telephoto lens. It’s because my pack and I look like a meal tickets.
We stopped in the first obvious lunch spot along the hike – where obviously dozens had stopped before us. The squirrels are cute – no doubt – and they’ve learned that this often means a snack tossed their way.
Now, ground squirrels and chipmunks might be cute, but they’re not too bright. I’m dead set against feeding wildlife. Could they tell the difference? No. They continued to scamper right past the nose of my leashed dog, right up the edge of my backpack. Shooing them away was about as effective as swatting at mosquitoes.
In one book I read, the author referred to golden-mantled ground squirrels as the junk-food junkies of the rodent world. They are voracious consumers of anything food left behind or tossed their way by humans.
Now this food, loaded with salt and sugar and oils and preservatives not usually found in a ground squirrels diet, won’t kill the animal. In fact they seem to do quite well supplementing their diet in this fashion.
The problem is that these are “wild” animals. They can carry disease. Golden-mantled ground squirrels in particular are known to carry fleas which in turn can carry bubonic plague.
Looking cute now?
Please don’t feed the wildlife!