They are all around us. Small and easily overlooked, but always present: the thirteen-lined ground squirrel. This little critter lives in prairies, and can be found all over the prairies of the arb. Have you ever been out walking near shorter grass prairie and noticed a small, vertical form scanning the scene for any sign of danger? That was most likely a thirteen-lined ground squirrel.
These ground squirrels live up to their name; they truly do have thirteen stripes running down their backs. They are diurnal, and your best chance to see one is on a warm day in the afternoon when they are most active. During the night they return to their underground burrows. These burrows are deep, but they also have shallower ones that they use to escape from predators, of which they have many.
Being small and not particularly fierce, the ground squirrel suffers predation by snakes, weasels, hawks, foxes, and others. However, the thirteen-lined ground squirrel population is doing very well despite the predation, and has in fact been increasing its range to the North and East as humans clear land.
The thirteen-lined ground squirrel is omnivorous and mostly feeds on seeds found in prairies. In agricultural settings they are often seen as a pest as they also enjoy corn and wheat. They eat insects, bird eggs, and clovers to name a few, and store some of what they find in their burrows. This becomes important come winter when the thirteen-lined ground squirrel goes into hibernation.
They are a species that undergoes true hibernation; their body temperature drops to just above freezing, and their heart rate from about 200 beats per minute to about 20 beats per minute. Unfortunately, these ground squirrels are already hibernating, but this spring go out and try to find this species intrinsic to the prairie ecosystem.
- Darcy Mishkind ’16 for the Cole Student Naturalists