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Facts about California Ground Squirrels

Sucheta Pradhan
One of the most common species of ground squirrels in the western parts of America, California ground squirrels have gained notoriety as garden pests. Here are some facts about the creatures.

Did You Know?

The binomial name of the California ground squirrel, Otospermophilus beecheyi, has been given to the species by Sir John Richardson, a Scottish naturalist. Apparently, the species has been named after an English naval officer, Frederick William Beechey.
The California ground squirrel, Otospermophilus beecheyi, is a rodent from the family Sciuridae and belongs to the wider category of ground squirrels. Ground squirrels are essentially those squirrels, which are adapted to live either on or in the ground, rather than on trees.
Owing to this characteristic, it can be more easily spotted than other arboreal species. Initially, these rodents were placed under the genus Spermophilus (thought to be monophyletic), and their scientific name was Spermophilus beecheyi.
However, later researches on the DNA sequencing of the species showed that they are, in fact, paraphyletic. Therefore, in the year 2009, they were reclassified under the genus Otospermophilus.

Physical Description

✤ The California ground squirrel possesses a mottled fur that's brownish-gray in color. Its back has cream-colored spots and flecks.
✤ The underside of the squirrel is lighter in color and has shades of grayish yellow or buff.
✤ The eyes have a very peculiar, outer lining of fur of a whitish shade. On the other hand, the fur around the ears is black in color.
✤ The animal, minus the tail, is about 30 cm in length. The tail alone is almost 15 cm long.
✤ The animal weighs anywhere between 0.62 lbs and 1.63 lbs.
✤ The tail is bushier as compared to the other species of ground squirrels, so much so that it is often mistaken as a fox squirrel.
✤ In the wild, the average lifespan of a California ground squirrel is up to six years. However, in captivity, they are known to survive up to about ten years.

Geographic Range and Habitat

Otospermophilus beecheyi is one of the most easily found ground squirrels in the western parts of the United States and the Baja California peninsula in northwestern Mexico.
✤ Very common in the American states of California and Oregon, the squirrel's geographical range has also extended in the recent times in southwestern Washington and northwestern Nevada.
✤ The squirrel is adapted to several different kinds of habitats, including fields, grasslands, pastures, and open areas, like the oak woodlands.
✤ The rodents are terrestrial in nature, as the name suggests, but they are also semi-fossorial. They are often found at places where there is a lot of loose soil, wherein they can excavate their burrows.


✤ California ground squirrels live in a system of burrows. There are numerous burrows dug in the vicinity of one another.
✤ These burrows can house several generations of these squirrels, giving the system a form of a squirrel colony.
✤ Each individual burrow possesses a different entrance, and in case of an external threat, the squirrels retreat―most of the time, to their own entrance.
✤ During the day, the animals spend a considerable amount of time sunning themselves, in order to maintain their body temperature.
✤ They are also known to estivate and hibernate, depending on whether it is summer or winter. This they do, in order to stay away from undesirable levels of temperature. During these periods, they are particularly inactive, owing to their lowered rates of metabolism.
✤ These squirrels communicate by making a variety of sounds, by producing a peculiar scent, or by sending out various tail signals.
✤ California ground squirrel is also known to repel predators by a variety of techniques, like sand-kicking and super-heating.

Breeding Behavior

✤ The California ground squirrels reach their age of maturity at the age of one.
✤ The mating season of these squirrels begins in early spring and lasts only for a few weeks.
✤ Right after the squirrels come out of their hibernation, breeding takes place.
✤ The female California ground squirrels are regarded as highly promiscuous in nature. They are known to mate with multiple males in a single mating season.
✤ Owing to this, the young ones in a single litter often possess multiple paternity.
✤ The gestation period for these mammals is about one month. A single litter has between five to eleven offspring.
✤ The young ones are able to open their eyes only after about five weeks of their birth. Moreover, they wean by the eighth week, after which they begin to burrow.

Food and Predators

✤ California ground squirrels use their cheek pouches to collect extra food for themselves, while they forage. They are known to store this food, and use it whenever they fail to find enough food.
✤ The rodents consume a variety of foods, including nuts, seeds, acorns, barley, and oats. They also eat different fruits, such as pears and gooseberries.
✤ Insects, such as crickets, grasshoppers, caterpillars, and beetles also form a part of their diet.
✤ Moreover, the squirrels are also known to eat bulbs, fungi, and roots, alongside quail eggs.
✤ Because these squirrels are mostly active during the daytime, and spend most of their time on the ground, they are very vulnerable to predation.
✤ Most common predators include golden eagles, red-tailed hawks, coyotes, foxes, rattlesnakes, weasels, badgers, cats, dogs, and pumas.
✤ However, in many instances, they secrete an odorous oil from their skin glands that repels some of their predators.
According to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the California squirrel has a Least Concern status, which means that they do not have a threat of endangerment in the near future.
Though the squirrel helps regulate the population of certain pests by consuming them, it needs to be noted that the squirrel itself is considered as a pest, especially in gardens and parks, owing to the fact that they eat off all the ornamental vegetation.
Furthermore, they are also considered to be potential carriers of certain harmful diseases, such as bubonic plague and tularemia.