Golden-mantled Ground Squirrel

Common Name: Golden-mantled Ground Squirrel
Class: Mammalia
Order: Rodentia
Family: Sciuridae
Genus: Spermophilus
Species: Spermophilus lateralis

photo M. Noonan

Golden-mantled Ground Squirrel Taxonomy/Description

Golden-mantled ground squirrels belong to the Mammalian Order Rodentia, in the squirrel family, Sciruridae. Sciruirdae includes all species of prairie dog, chipmunk and the woodchuck. The golden-mantled ground squirrel's scientific name is Spermophilus lateralis. The generic name, spermophilus, is derived from the Greek words sperma and philos, which mean “seed” and ”loving or pleasing”, respectively. Seeds and other plant matter are the primary components of this species diet. The specific name, lateralis, means "side" in Latin, referring to the animal’s striped sides.

photo M. Noonan

Golden-mantled ground squirrels are similar in coloration to chipmunks. They have a single large white stripe on each side of their body, bordered with black stripes. A golden brown mantle shades their head and shoulders. Facial stripes are not present. White rings border each eye. Their backs are darker in color, with black tails. Males have a brighter mantle than females, as well as larger brain size. Adults weigh anywhere between four and thirteen ounces and grow to about ten inches, including their tail.

Golden-mantled Ground Squirrel Habitat/Diet

                     photo M. Noonan

Golden-mantled ground squirrels live throughout western North America, at elevations varying from 3,500-12,000ft, including the United States and Canada. Their range extends north to Alberta and British Columbia and south to New Mexico and southern California. Chaparral and timberline meadows are the preferred habitat for this species. This species will live above the tree line if enough cover is provided.

Ground squirrels eat a variety of seeds, nuts and fruits, as well as insects, fungi and some green plants. Food is horded to prepare for hibernation, which extends from October through April. The squirrel transports the food to its shallow burrow by placing the articles inside its cheek pouches. Enough food is present to supply the animal with food upon its awakening in spring. Some of the horded food is also eaten if the squirrel wakes up during the winter.


Golden-mantled Ground Squirrel Behavior/Reproduction

This species is asocial, although altruistic calling behaviors are common. When a predator is sighted, the ground squirrel will warn other squirrels by calling. Such an act endangers the calling squirrel’s own life.

photo M. Noonan

After awakening from hibernation in April, the golden-mantled ground squirrels enter their mating season. Males emerge from hibernation first. They compete to establish territories. Two to three weeks later the females emerge. Females breed with the male whose territory they awoke on. Underground nests of vegetation are constructed by females in preparation for offspring care. Gestation is 26-33 days. A female gives birth to one litter of 4-6 offspring. They are born altricial. This means the babies are born relatively undeveloped, requiring large amounts of parental care. Over the course of one month, the young squirrels grow teeth, fur, their eyes open and they begin to eat solid food. They leave their burrow shortly after, and are weaned sometime after 29 days. Sexual maturity is reached within the first year.

Golden-mantled Ground Squirrel Conservation

The golden-mantled ground squirrel is not endangered. It is quite numerous throughout its range. However, as with all species, monitoring destructive human interactions with the environment, such as pollution and habitat destruction, are beneficial to this species.

Content provided by Canisius College students under the direction of Michael Noonan, PhD.