Chipmunks & Squirrels :: Nature Study & Writing

When we first started homeschooling years ago, the kids and I volunteered at the High Desert Museum.  We were part of the Naturalists Team and we lead nature walks on the grounds of the museum for visitors.  At the time, the focus of our walks was the Healing Power of Plants for there was an exhibit on the same topic.  However, the museum’s residents would often come to say ‘hello’ and the guests were always captivated by their amusing behavior.  We thereby always took a few moments to describe the difference between the two.  I even wrote a blog post about these two furry friends for my personal blog, Chipmunk or Squirrel, as a part of a series of articles, “Nature Study on the Run”.  

One of the current challenges at Handbook of Nature Study focuses upon chipmunks and squirrels. Coincidentally, when we were at our biweekly curriculum meeting last week, Sweetie was sharing a mini-dictionary she made of words that have been borrowed from Native Americans.  One of the words, chipmunk, came from the Algonquian tribe of the East Coast.  The facilitator asked, “What is the difference between a chipmunk and a squirrel?”  Sweetie answered confidently, “The squirrel has a gold ring around its eyes and a chipmunk has parallel black stripes.”  The facilitator scrunched her eyes slightly and added, “Hmmm.  I think there is more.  That would be a good research project.”

As I planned the lessons for the next few weeks, I was delighted that one of Sweetie’s writing assignments is to write a paper that compares and contrasts.  This is one that the facilitator wants to see from rough draft to polished piece; though the facilitator suggested the piece be about hobbies to correspond with a literature selection (the facilitator wrote the assignments in advance of our meeting and the conversation that evolved regarding the chipmunk).  I thereby modified the assignment to better suit our style of learning and our interests.  Better yet … it coincides with the Outdoor Hour Challenge.

We have been hoping to see squirrels on our nature walks but thus far we’ve seen only one … and it was too evasive even to take a quick photo.  Strange that when we are looking for them we can’t find them but when we are not specifically looking, they are everywhere.  Hopefully, we will have better luck later this week.  We will keep you posted.  Meanwhile, here is her report:

All About Squirrels: The Family Sciuridae
 What is the difference between a squirrel and a chipmunk?  Many people don’t realize that what they call a chipmunk is actually a squirrel, but I do.  Squirrels belong to the family Sciuridae, which include Squirrels, Chipmunks, Wood Chucks, Flying Squirrels, and Prairie Dogs. They are rodents with large front teeth or incisors. Between the incisors and the molars is a space. There are three large groups: Tree Squirrels and Ground Squirrels which are active during the day, and Flying Squirrels which are active during night and dusk.
Squirrels eat mostly nuts, seeds, and berries but they are also opportunists, eating insects, carrots, Cheese-its, and even soil for the minerals. They get all the water they need from dew and the food they eat. In the colder months they grow winter coats. They curl their tail up to keep in their body heat. They have good eyesight, large ears for hearing, and big feet with sharp claws. They are great climbers and climb up and down trees head first, using their tail for balance. They can also swim and use their tail as a rudder.  They groom or clean themselves a lot. They mark their territory by wiping their saliva or peeing on trees and sticks.
There are only 3 kinds of tree squirrels, Gray, Fox and Red squirrels. These squirrels all have big fluffy tails.  Tree squirrels are active all year round. They build nests but scientists call them dreys.  They store food by burying nuts and seeds in the ground about 1-inch deep.  Their memory lasts only about 20 minutes but they have a good sense of smell.  They have two litters a year, each of 2-5 babies.  The male doesn’t take part in the care of the babies.
There are over 40 kinds of ground squirrels, including the two similarly marked Yellow-pine Chipmunk and the Golden Mantled Ground Squirrel.  To tell them apart, you must look at their eyes. The Yellow-pine Chipmunk as black and white parallel stripes across its eyes while the Golden Mantled Ground Squirrel has a golden ring around its eyes.  Ground squirrels live in burrows, that is why they can live in any climate.  Some ground squirrels hibernate (long periods of sleep during the winter) and other estivate (long periods of sleep during the summer months).  Unlike tree squirrels, ground squirrels store food in their burrows.  They have about 2-8 babies per litter.  The male though has nothing to do with raising the babies.
The family Sciurridae is a big one, made up of many kinds of tree squirrels, ground squirrels, and flying squirrels. Chipmunks are one of many kinds of ground squirrels.  The biggest difference between tree and ground squirrels is that tree squirrels are active all year round while ground squirrels are not.  I have made friends with both Golden Mantled Ground Squirrels and Yellow-pine Chipmunks.  In my opinion, the smaller chipmunk is more courageous for he let me pet briefly him while I fed him Cheeze-its and peanuts.  I don’t recommend you try this though.  Squirrels are wild animals and can bite.

About Eva Varga

Eva is passionate about education. She has extensive experience in both formal and informal settings. She presently homeschools her two young children, teaches professional development courses through the Heritage Institute, and writes a middle level secular science curriculum called Science Logic. In addition to her work in education, she is an athlete, competing in Masters swimming events and marathons. In her spare time she enjoys reading, traveling, learning new languages, and above all spending time with her family. ♥

2 comments on “Chipmunks & Squirrels :: Nature Study & Writing

  1. Love the way your learning is wrapped up together…reading, writing, science, nature. Wonderful report on an interesting topic. I think she did a wonderful job!

    Thanks so much for sharing your entry with the OHC.

  2. That is exactly what happened to us. We were looking for sparrows when we saw ours. But when we were trying; they were no where to be seen.

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