Ground Squirrel vs Chipmunk (KEY Differences)

As a nature lover who enjoys observing squirrels and chipmunks, I’m often asked how to tell these two animals apart. At first glance, ground squirrels and chipmunks look very similar – they are both small, striped rodents. Yet, there exist notable distinctions between the ground squirrel vs chipmunk in terms of their size, appearance, habitat, behavior, and various other aspects.

Ground squirrels and chipmunks both belong to the squirrel family (Sciuridae), but they are different genera within that family. Chipmunks belong to the genus Tamias, while ground squirrels belong to the genus Spermophilus.

As a nature lover who enjoys observing squirrels and chipmunks, I’m often asked how to tell these two animals apart. So, let’s explore the differences between these two types of squirrels in more detail:

Size and Weight

A conspicuous dissimilarity is the substantial size disparity between ground squirrels and chipmunks. An average chipmunk is about 5-8 inches long (including the tail), weighing around 1-6 ounces. Ground squirrels measure about 9-20 inches long and can weigh up to 14 ounces.

The chipmunk‘s small size allows it to easily run through burrows underground. Meanwhile, the larger ground squirrel can better cover ground above ground.

Their sizes also correlate with differing defense tactics – chipmunks often flee underground when threatened, while ground squirrels are more likely to stand their ground.

Appearance and Markings

ground squirrel vs chipmunk - stripes

Furthermore, chipmunks and ground squirrels exhibit contrasting coloration and distinctive markings:

  • Chipmunks have alternating black and white stripes running down their backs. They have a total of 5 dark stripes. Their small ears are rounded and upright.
  • Ground squirrels have mostly uniform colors, like brown, gray, black, white, or tan colors. However, some ground squirrels also have stripes.

Additionally, only chipmunks have stripes on their heads, while ground squirrels do not.

Their bushy tails also differ – chipmunk tails are smaller and fox-like, while ground squirrel tails are longer and flatter.

Habitat and Range

You’re more likely to find these species in different habitats:

  • Chipmunks prefer wooded areas like forests and shrublands. They build complex tunnel systems underground.
  • Ground squirrels inhabit open areas including meadows, prairies, pastures, and rural parks. Most live in burrow systems underground.

In North America, chipmunks are found widely across the United States and Canada. Ground squirrels have a more limited range concentrated in the central plains and the western United States.

Behavior and Lifestyle

There are also behavioral differences between these two types of squirrels:

  • Chipmunks are solitary and territorial. Each individual builds an elaborate burrow system.
  • Some species of ground squirrels are more social and live in colonies sharing underground burrow systems.

Both species hibernate during the winter months to conserve energy, but they hibernate differently:

  • Chipmunks rouse themselves from slumber every few days to indulge in the consumption of their meticulously stored food supplies. Their body temperature drops but not drastically.
  • Some ground squirrels enter an extremely deep hibernation called torpor. Their body temperature can fall as low as 27°F.

In spring, chipmunks and ground squirrels differ in their reproduction patterns. Chipmunks only produce one or two small litters of 2-6 babies. But some ground squirrels have up to 14 pups and can produce 2-3 litters per season.


As omnivores, both species eat a variety of foods, but their diets differ slightly:

  • Chipmunks prefer seeds, nuts, berries, fruits, mushrooms, and some insects.
  • Ground squirrels eat more vegetation like grass, leaves, and agricultural crops, supplemented by insects and eggs.

Both chipmunks and ground squirrels gather and hoard food in their burrows to prepare for the winter months.


These species also differ in the sounds they produce to communicate:

  • Chipmunks make high-pitched birdlike chirping sounds (“chip” is even in their name).
  • Ground squirrels emit short barks, whistles, and chatters in lower frequencies.


Ground squirrel vs chipmunk: Although ground squirrels and chipmunks share membership in the same squirrel family and display certain common traits, they diverge significantly in terms of size, appearance, habitat, behavior, and numerous other distinguishing characteristics.

Key identifying features include size, striping patterns, tail shape, range, and chirping vocalizations unique to chipmunks. Watch and listen closely, and with some practice, you’ll be able to readily distinguish a ground squirrel from a chipmunk scampering by!

I hope this detailed guide to comparing and contrasting ground squirrels vs. chipmunks helps you identify which one you’re seeing next time you spot a striped furry creature. As a nature enthusiast who loves watching both species, I’m always happy to share my knowledge to help others appreciate and learn about wildlife!

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