Plants and Animals

Eastern Chipmunk

Most abundant in the Ozarks, this small, furry, acorn loving rodent lives in forest borders.

My wife, Joyce, and I live on her family farm in Franklin County, and when we go for walks we often visit a tract she calls “Thousand Rocks.” A wooded valley, cluttered with huge, sandstone outcroppings, Thousand Rocks is a magical place from Joyce’s childhood, an enchanted forest. Although her grandfather sold much of the tract many years ago due to its non-tillable nature, she still considers the entire woodland as part of her heritage, just as much as the rest of the farm.

One of my favorite creatures of Thousand Rocks is the chipmunk, (Tamias striatus). Chipmunks are a photographer’s delight because they are furry, cute and loaded with personality. I can watch them for hours as they scurry back and forth across the boulders, foraging in crevices for hickory nuts and acorns. Also, chipmunks possess a trait that makes them very amenable to photography: they like to sit and think! If you observe a chipmunk for any length of time, it will eventually stop dead in its tracks and stare into space, apparently at nothing in particular. During these meditative periods, I’m provided plenty of opportunity to make sharp images, even in low light.

Chipmunks are found throughout Missouri but are most abundant in the Ozarks. Quite solitary in nature, they rarely interact with others of their kind, but when they do cross paths, an altercation usually ensues. Chipmunks are reddish-brown and are easily identified by the five stripes running lengthwise along their back and sides. The chipmunk’s tail is fur covered, but it is not as bushy as that of a tree squirrel. As with most rodents of Missouri, chipmunks can become a nuisance from time to time, especially around homes. But their beauty is a joy to behold, and they are an important part of the forest ecosystem, as are all plants and animals that dwell in that habitat.

Chipmunks are found in forest border areas, especially where plenty of logs, rocky outcroppings and other cover is available. Under these areas they construct burrows, where they take shelter from heat and cold, store food and raise young. In the fall, chipmunks gather hickory nuts, acorns, walnuts, seeds and other food items, which they store in their burrows. I always enjoy watching chipmunks collect food. Their expanding cheek pouches serving as built-in grocery bags. When winter arrives, some chipmunks retreat to their burrows to hibernate, while others stay active, especially on mild days. Breeding begins during the warming days of late winter, a good time to listen for their “chip” call. Young are born as early as April, sometimes with a second litter appearing later in the summer. Watch for juvenile chipmunks in late May and June as they begin to explore the world above ground.

I’ve only been visiting Thousand Rocks for 29 years, not nearly as long as Joyce, but I consider the tract a part of my heritage, as well. I recently installed a bird-feeding station near one of my favorite boulders, and if the truth be known, I’ll be watching the ground a bit more than the tree limbs, eager for a glimpse of Missouri’s most watchable rodent.

—Story and photo by Danny Brown

We help people discover nature through our online field guide. Visit mdc.mo.gov/node/73 to learn more about Missouri’s plants and animals.