Chipmunks' stripes give these small mammals a survival adaptation in the wooded areas where they live. Chipmunks have limited ability to defend themselves against predatory birds and other animals who find them good to eat. Along with their abilities to climb, warn each other about danger, and hibernate in the winter, their varied coat coloring helps them keep their lives.
Chipmunks generally favor environments with trees or shrubs; they have adapted to habitats ranging from mountains to deserts. They like rocky areas for the protective niches in them. Trees offer food, hiding places and nesting spots. As they forage, chipmunks stash food in their cheeks to store away for later meals. Their coloration allows them to disappear while they climb trees, skitter over rocks or forage in fallen leaves, scrubland or meadows with less risk of attracting a predator's attention. As the chipmunks grow to adulthood, eating, mating, nesting and producing the next generation of chipmunks, their stripes camouflage them from predators looking for a meal.
Out of Sight
Chipmunk coloring varies by species, with certain ones having more gray in their coats and others having more tan, brown or reddish tones. The stripes contrast with the main coat color. Although it may seem as though these stripes could attract attention like racing stripes on a car, they actually serve as protective coloration. Leopards and giraffes have this same advantage. A coat with color variations helps the chipmunk hide in plain sight, whereas a single-color coat would stand out against a dappled background. For example, the pale coloring of Alpine chipmunks hides them in their gray rock habitat.
Chipmunks often display seasonal coat changes, with their winter coats being more muted in color. The fur grows in thicker for warmth. Because the colors of their environment tend to be duller in the winter, the chipmunk's color and markings become more subtle, so she blends in better. This camouflage improves her survival advantage by allowing her to be less visible in her surroundings.
Of the 25 chipmunk species, 24 of them live in North America. The name chipmunk may come from an Algonquian word, according to the Native Languages of the Americas website. Native American tribes observed wildlife and featured animals in legends that imparted wisdom about life and the natural world. Legends from several tribes include the chipmunk. An Iroquois tale says that Chipmunk taunted Bear. Bear went after Chipmunk and clawed Chipmunk for the impertinence, leaving the stripes.
- Animal Diversity Web: Tamias Alpinus - Alpine Chipmunk
- Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History: Tamias Quadrimaculatus: Long-Eared Chipmunk
- Animal Diversity Web: Tamias Panamintinus - Panamint Chipmunk
- National Geographic: Chipmunk (Tamias)
- Native Languages of the Americas: Native American Chipmunk Mythology
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Gryphon Adams began publishing in 1985. He contributed to the "San Francisco Chronicle" and "Dark Voices." Adams writes about a variety of topics, including teaching, floral design, landscaping and home furnishings. Adams is a certified health educator and a massage practitioner. He received his Master of Fine Arts at San Francisco State University.