Arctic Ground Squirrel (Spermophilus parryii)
and Red Squirrel (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus):
Arctic Ground Squirrel
Arctic ground squirrels, the only ground squirrels in Alaska, are grizzled tan and gray on their upperparts and tan to rusty on their underparts. Their nose, head, and legs are rusty-tan colored. Arctic ground squirrels have round heads with a blunt nose and low, rounded ears. They have short legs and a tail that is flat and moderately bushy. The fur of Arctic ground squirrels is used by local people for clothing, thus they are often referred to as parka squirrels.
These squirrels are 14 to 18 inches in length and adults weigh around 2 pounds. Sometimes confused with the hoary marmot, Arctic ground squirrels are smaller and do not have black feet.
Arctic ground squirrels live in well-drained tundra and brushy meadows from sea level to alpine areas. They eat seeds, roots, bulbs, leaves, mushrooms, insects, and bird eggs. Arctic ground squirrels hibernate in sleeping chambers 5 to 8 feet underground from September to May, but may emerge in the winter for short periods.
Breeding occurs in May. Young are born June to July and litters range from 5 to 10 young. They open their eyes that three weeks, are weaned after a month, and leave their burrow after 5 or 6 weeks.
Red squirrels are the smallest of the tree squirrels and are usually 11 to 13 inches in length, including the tail. Red squirrels are rusty colored on the upperparts with a whitish belly. The bushy tail is often a lighter orange or red with light tipped hairs. They are quite conspicuous animals, with a noisy chatter sounding from high tree branches, and are usually heard before they're seen.
Red squirrels live in mixed spruce forests. They are active throughout the year and do not hibernate. Red squirrels feed on a variety of seeds, nuts, eggs and fungi, and cache pine cones and nuts for the winter. They construct nests out of leaves, twigs, moss, lichens and bark nest either in tree cavities or on branches. Red squirrels also have ground burrows that are used mostly for storage.
Breeding occurs February through March and again in June and July. The young are born in April to May and August to September with litters of three to seven. They are weaned within five weeks but will remain with their mother until they have reached almost adult size.
Burt, William H. and Richard P. Grossenheider. 1980. Peterson field guide to mammals. Houghton Mifflin Company. Boston Massachusetts.
Alaska Geographic Society. 1996. Mammals of Alaska: a comprehensive field guide from the publishers of Alaska geographic. The Alaska Geographic Society. Anchorage Alaska.
For more information, visit the Alaska Department of Fish and Game's wildlife notebook pages.
Last updated: July 24, 2008