Skip to Content

Squirrel vs. Chipmunk

A chipmunk holding a nut over a branch of tree surrounded with flowers.

Chipmunks and squirrels both belong to the Sciuridae family. Although these rodents are similar in appearance, there are several significant differences between them. They behave in similar ways to each other yet exhibit distinct traits and characteristics.

When comparing squirrels versus chipmunks, the one is often mistaken for the other; however, they are entirely different. Chipmunks have the same shape as squirrels, yet they are smaller with distinctive stripes down their backs and faces. Chipmunks don’t have a reputation for being a pest.

Although squirrels are considered a nuisance, they and chipmunks are fascinating creatures. Squirrels are intelligent and outmaneuver predators by running in zigzags. Chipmunks, although the smaller cousin, is equally intelligent.

Squirrels vs Chipmunks

A chipmunk on a branch of tree eating a nut.

Although their body shape is essentially alike, squirrels are larger, longer, and heftier than chipmunks. Their coloring, patterns, and fur possess noteworthy differences. The primary features that identify a chipmunk are its diminutive form and its back and face stripes.

At an average weight of 1 – 5 ounces, chipmunks are the smallest member of the Sciuridae family. Squirrels and chipmunks are diurnal; they are mainly active at sunrise and before dusk, except flying squirrels that are nocturnal.

Chipmunks have pouches inside their cheeks that serve to store food while foraging. The big, swollen appearance of the full cheeks is not a reliable identifying feature, as some ground squirrels also have this trait. The size of a full pouch can expand to the size of the chipmunk.  

Chipmunks create tunnels that form a series of underground tunnels. The underground burrows are well concealed, with camouflaged entrances. The tunnels can extend 10 – 30 feet long. The nesting area is well maintained, lined with leaves, clean, and hoards food.   

See also  2 Land Animals Without Brains

Squirrels are especially bothersome to humans. They tend to dig up gardens for bulbs, shoots, and bite through wires. Chipmunks don’t have a bad reputation and generally aren’t considered a nuisance.

There are 25 classifications of chipmunk species ranging from Canada across North America to Mexico, all except for the Siberian chipmunk. The various terrains include deserts, wooded areas, and suburban neighborhoods.  

Squirrels are integral to many terrestrial ecosystems. There are approximately 280 species of squirrels. There are three types of squirrels in the Sciuridae family: the tree squirrel, the ground squirrel, and the flying squirrel.

Tree Squirrels vs Chipmunks

Tree squirrel walking on the tree.

The tree squirrel is the largest of all three squirrels; its large shaggy, fluffy tail is its main identifying feature. It has an elongated frame and basic brown coloring. Tree squirrels reside in trees.

DescriptionSquirrels (Tree Squirrel)Chipmunks
GenusSciuridae- RodentSciuridae- Rodent
Size5-36 inches10 inches
Weight11-35 ounces (1-1.5 pounds during winter)1-5 ounces
AppearanceLong, lean bodies, large bushy tail that doubles the length of the body, short thick fur, large ears, and sharp claws (ear tufts)Small size, have cheek pouches, short tails, the body is the same shape as squirrels
ColoringBlack, brown, rust red, and greyRusty brown fur, two tan bands, and five black stripes run down its back from neck to rear, black stripes on the face
LifespanAverage 5-12 years can live to 15 years in a sanctuary2-5 years depending on the species and environment, in a sanctuary reported cases of 11 years
HabitatArboreal- build homes in treesNest in underground burrows
DistributionOn every continent except the poles and Australia, Greenland, and MadagascarCanada, North America, Mexico, and Parts of Asia (Siberian chipmunk)
DietOmnivores- Seeds, nuts, fruits, fungi, insects, smaller mammals, and young snakes, tree sap is a delicacy to some species Omnivores- Seeds, nuts, berries, insects, and small animals
VocalizationSpecific vocalization for mating, alarms, and social interactionYes- chip and deep chunk sounds and the startle call- ward off predators
Mating HabitsTwice a year- December and January, and May to JuneBreed twice a year, once in March (spring) and again in July (summer)
TraitsSolitarySolitary
BehaviorsDiurnalDiurnal
Hibernation PeriodActive all year2-3 days at a time, October – March
Scatter HoardingNo need – due to deep hibernation sleepStore food for the winter

Summary of Tree Squirrels vs Chipmunks

  • Size- tree squirrel 5-36 inches; chipmunks are 10 inches
  • Weight- tree squirrel 11-35 ounces; chipmunks 1-5 ounces
  • Coloring- tree squirrel black, brown, and rust-red; chipmunks black and tan stripes
  • Lifespan- tree squirrel 5-12 years; chipmunks 2-5 years  
  • Habitat- tree squirrel arboreal; underground burrows
  • Diet- Both are omnivores
See also  What Do Coyotes Eat? How Do They Hunt?

Ground Squirrel vs Chipmunks

Ground squirrel wandering on the grassland.

The ground squirrel is very similar in appearance to chipmunks. They are roughly the same proportions, and both have stripes. Frequently ground squirrels are misidentified as chipmunks.

DescriptionSquirrels (Ground Squirrel)Chipmunks
GenusSciuridae- RodentSciuridae- Rodent
Size12-14 inches10 inches
Weight21-30 ounces1-5 ounces
AppearanceRobust little bodies, short, sturdy forelegs, thick thighs, furry, short tails, large, broad feet with a sizeable middle digit for burrowingSmall size, have cheek pouches, short tails, the body is the same shape as squirrels
ColoringBlack, brown, rust red, and greyRusty brown fur, two tan bands, and five black stripes run down its back from neck to rear, black stripes on the face
Lifespan5-7 years2-5 years depending on the species and environment, in a sanctuary reported cases of 11 years
HabitatLawn or grassy pastures, meadows, typically shun wooded area- Nest in underground burrowsNest in underground burrows
DistributionOn every continent except the poles and Australia, Greenland, and MadagascarCanada, North America, Mexico, and parts of Asia (Siberian chipmunk)
DietOmnivores- seeds, fruits, nuts, fungi, bird eggs, baby birds,Omnivores- Seeds, nuts, berries, insects, and small animals
VocalizationSpecific vocalization for mating, alarms, and social interactionChip and deep chunk sound and the startle call- ward off predators
Mating HabitsPeak mating cycles twice a year- December and January, and May to JuneBreed twice a year, once in March (spring) and again in July (summer)
TraitsHighly social– live in coloniesSolitary
BehaviorDiurnalDiurnal
Hibernation Period3-4 months underground2-3 days at a time, October- March
Scatter HoardingNo need- due to deep hibernation sleepStore food for the winter

Summary of Ground Squirrels Versus Chipmunks

  • Size- ground squirrel 12-14 inches; chipmunks are 10 inches
  • Weight- ground squirrel 21-30 ounces; chipmunks 1-5 ounces
  • Coloring- ground squirrel black, brown, and rust-red; chipmunks black and tan stripes
  • Lifespan- ground squirrel 5-7 years; chipmunks 2-5 years 
  • Habitat- Both in underground burrows
  • Diet- Both are omnivores
See also  Which Birds Have Webbed Feet?

Flying Squirrel vs Chipmunks

Close-up of a flying squirrel.

The flying squirrel has a unique membrane (patagium) attached to its wrists and ankles that assists it in gliding from tree to tree. The patagium is a membrane pelt formed like a parachute that stretches out from wrists to ankles.

DescriptionSquirrels (Flying Squirrel)Chipmunks
GenusSciuridae- RodentSciuridae- Rodent
Size8-10 inches10 inches
Weight1.8-2.5 ounces1-5 ounces
AppearanceFluffy tails the length of their bodies, ear tufts, furry membrane attached to wrists and ankles for glidingSmall size, have cheek pouches, short tails, the body is the same shape as squirrels
ColoringGrey, brownRusty brown fur, two tan bands, and five black stripes run down its back from neck to rear, black stripes on the face
LifespanAn average of six years in the wild and 15 years in a sanctuary2-5 years depending on the species and environment, in a sanctuary reported cases of 11 years
HabitatDeciduous and coniferous forests and woodlandNest in underground burrows
DistributionNorth America, Central America, Scandinavia, and Southeast and Northern AsiaCanada, North America, Mexico, and parts of Asia (Siberian Chipmunk)
DietOmnivores- seeds, fruits, nuts, fungi, bird eggs, baby birds,Omnivores- Seeds, nuts, berries, insects, and small animals
VocalizationSpecific vocalization for mating, alarms, and social interactionChip and deep chunk sound and the startle call- ward off predators
Mating HabitsDuring February and MarchBreed twice a year, once in March (spring) and again in July (summer)
TraitsSolitary, group together to stay warmSolitary
BehaviorNocturnalDiurnal
Hibernation PeriodActive all year round2-3 days at a time, October- March
Scatter HoardingNo need- due to deep hibernation sleepStore food for winter

Summary of Flying Squirrel vs Chipmunks

  • Size- flying squirrel 8-10 inches; chipmunks are 10 inches
  • Weight- flying squirrel 1.8-2.5 ounces; chipmunks 1-5 ounces
  • Coloring- flying squirrel grey, brown; chipmunks black and tan stripes
  • Lifespan- flying squirrel 6-15 years; chipmunks 2-5 years 
  • Habitat- flying squirrel arboreal; chipmunks underground burrows
  • Diet- Both are omnivores
See also  51 Different Types of Rats

Conclusion

Squirrels and chipmunks are alike. These rodents of the Sciuridae family have the same body shape but different coloring and size. A chipmunk is smaller with black stripes down its back and on its face.

The tree squirrel has a sizeable bushy tail that assists it with balance. The chipmunk lives in a network of underground burrows, as does the ground squirrel, not the flying or the tree squirrel.

References:

Forest Preserve District of Will County: WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE: CHIPMUNK VS. GROUND SQUIRREL

AZ Animals: Chipmunk vs Squirrel: 7 Main Differences Explained

The Conversation: Why do chipmunks live on the ground but squirrels live in trees?

Pediaa.Com: What is the Difference Between Chipmunk and Squirrel

AllThingsNature: What is the Difference Between a Squirrel and a Chipmunk?

University of Saskatchewan: Why do chipmunks live on the ground but squirrels live in trees?

Neeness: Are Chipmunks Part Of The Squirrel Family?

National Wildlife Federation Blog: NOT Alvin and the Chipmunks: 10 Facts You May Not Know about the Real Rodents

Differencebetween.net: Difference Between Squirrel and Chipmunk

PAWS: Squirrels and Chipmunks

Pets on Mom.com: DIFFERENCES BETWEEN A CHIPMUNK AND A SQUIRREL

Live Science: Chipmunk Facts

New Hampshire’s PBS Station: Sciuridae – squirrels, chipmunks, marmots, prairie dogs

Treehugger: 10 Things You Don’t Know About Chipmunks

National Wildlife Federation Blog: 10 Nutty Facts to Make You Appreciate Squirrels

Quora: What are the main characteristics between a squirrel and a chipmunk?

KnowledgeNuts: The Difference Between Chipmunks And Squirrels

Animal Diversity Web: Sciuridae

Wildlife Damage: Chipmunk & Ground Squirrel

National Geographic: Flying squirrels

National Wildlife Federation: Flying Squirrels

See also  Do Porcupines Live Together? If so, how many?

National Geographic: Squirrels

Pets on Mom.com: WHAT TIME OF THE YEAR DO SQUIRRELS COME OUT?

UC Statewide IPM Program: Ground Squirrel

CT.gov: Flying Squirrels