Saturday, December 10, 2011

Squirrel Facts: The Arctic Ground Squirrel

The arctic ground squirrel lives in Alaska, northern Canada, including Northwest Territory, Yukon, and northern British Columbia, and Siberia. It is reddish on its face and sides, with light brown fur on its belly and gray speckled with white on the back.

The Arctic Ground Squirrel

These squirrels of the north live in colonies that can include several hundred individuals, dominated by one or two males that control the territory. Each adult squirrel has a burrow that is dug about three feet under the  ground, and lined with lichens, leaves, and muskox hair. The burrows are connected by a network of tunnels. During the summer, the arctic ground squirrel will start storing willow leaves, seeds, and grasses in its burrow. The squirrels hibernate from September until April, and when it awakens, it will eat the stored food until the spring plants grow. In the spring and summer, other foods include roots, berries, stalks, and mushrooms.

Arctic Ground Squirrel Eating a Mushroom
During hibernation, the body temperature of the arctic ground squirrel can drop as low as -3 degrees C (27 F), which is the lowest recorded naturally occuring body temperature of any mammal.

Babies are born in June, in litters of five to ten. Although the babies are blind and helpless at birth, they grow quickly, and by September are ready to leave their mother, forage and store their own food, and establish their own burrows.

Arctic ground squirrels communicate both by sound and body contact. Upon meeting they will touch noses to establish recognition. These squirrels are extremely vocal, with different alert sounds used to distinguish different types of predators. The Inupiat Eskimo word for the arctic ground squirrel is "sik-sik" for one of its characteristic calls.

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