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Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Species Spotlight #12: California Ground Squirrel

I can’t think of a better way to demonstrate the drastic change in fauna between North Carolina and California than to compare their two most common mammals. Last week, I showcased the Eastern Gray Squirrel, a species that can be found in any environment at any time of the year. It’s an arboreal specialist, jumping from treetop to treetop, clambering up and down the loose bark at speeds only a highly evolved animal could attain. However, there’s one major difference in the habitats present in southern California – they don't have trees, not like the hundred-footers we can get around here anyway. As such, the common squirrels there have had to evolve a much more terrestrial lifestyle – and thus I present you the California Ground Squirrel.

Perhaps he's just looking for an afternoon sugar rush?

James first photographed the ground squirrels several years before on a past trip out west. He found the one you see above trying to break into a tube of Mentos, presumably to improve his acorn-breath. But the picture exemplifies the adaptation of these squirrels to an urban environment much like their brethren from the east, even without the aid of trees. I first encountered the squirrels on that very first day in San Diego, at Famosa Slough. Walking along the path, I saw something dive behind a hillside of low-lying vines, and immediately I thought it must be something exotic like the crazy western birds I’d been encountering. Alas, I found only a squirrel, albeit a rather more colorful one than I’m used to on the east coast – it’s mostly brown, but with a bright white collar that grades into a series of spots along its back. Not bad looking, for a squirrel!

They live up to their name - I don't think I ever saw one more than three feet off the ground!

When I say these things were everywhere, I mean everywhere. When we traveled up to Big Bear Lake in the San Bernardino Mountains, the bird life around us changed – Mountain Chickadees instead of Bushtits, Stellar’s Jays instead of scrub jays, and Band-tailed Pigeons instead of Mourning Doves. But the squirrels remained the same, and James managed photograph this one in the late afternoon sun as he fed rather nonchalantly near our campsite. Just like the squirrels we found in San Diego, and just like the squirrels we’ve got back home.


  1. I think you should change the first paragraph to specify that it's southern California that does not have trees. After all, the giant redwoods are in northern CA. I do think it strange that areas in south CA are labeled "national forests" when there's not a tree in sight. At least not a tall "tree" tree. I always say, "but where're the trees?"

  2. You're right, my California experience is strictly confined to SoCal. Kind of jarring how few trees there are, bar a eucalyptus here and there lol.