Round-tailed Ground Squirrel
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When we first moved to Tucson and I began my desert walks I’d notice areas of barren ground that were punctuated with numerous burrow openings. The holes were two or three inches across and in some areas were only separated from each other by a distance of a couple of feet. I wondered what sort of animal had dug all of these burrows.
It didn’t take long to find out. These holes were occupied by Round-tailed Ground Squirrels, perhaps the most often seen diurnal mammals in the Tucson area.
A Round-tailed Ground Squirrel is a small, tan colored animal. It measures about six inches in length (excluding its tail) and weighs only about a quarter of a pound. These animals spend much of their lives underground. They are diurnal foragers. They are dormant on cold winter days and during the hottest days of the summer (they do not hibernate) and are active the rest of the year. They are also very, very cute.
These little squirrels are absolutely endearing. They are often approachable when encountered out on the desert. I’ve walked within two or three feet of one of these animals without it heading for the safety of its burrow.
Round-tailed Ground Squirrels are omnivores, eating just about anything they can obtain. Leaves, flowers, small insects and invertebrates, they’ll happily gobble all of them down if they get the opportunity. A wide range of predators actively hunt these squirrels. Coyotes, bobcats, and several species of raptors dine on them.
A lot of visitors to the Tucson area make the mistake of assuming that Round-tailed Ground Squirrels are prairie dogs. They’re not. Prairie dogs are much larger than these squirrels and they have a social structure that is as complex as that of almost any animal. Round-tailed Ground Squirrels superficially resemble prairie dogs in that they build their burrows in colonies. However, individuals of this species rarely socialize as do prairie dogs. In the world of the Round-tailed Ground Squirrel it’s every squirrel for himself or herself.
Images made with a Canon 5DS-R, 180mm f3.5L Macro Lens+1.4x telextender and assisted by Canon 600EX-RT Speedlite, M setting ISO 160, f10 @ 1/160.