Lake of the Woods, Oregon, USA: Oct. 12, 2011
Up pops a golden-mantled ground squirrel. What a chunky little fellow! His belly looks as if he swallowed a balloon and his cheeks bulge almost hiding his bright eyes. I assume he has his cheeks stuffed with goodies. But no! When he stretches his head up the bulges smooth down and I realize he is just plain fat. He looks like a woodland Buddha. I thought squirrels were supposed to be slim little athletes. Is this an anomaly?
I soon realize these layers of fat must be quite normal. We find three more golden-mantled ground squirrels popping up on one downed log after another. Two are chunky cousins of the first and the third looks to be a youngster who hasn’t had time to put on his layers of winter food.
When we return home I read up on what we’ve just seen. Golden-mantled ground squirrels are true hibernators, unlike chipmunks which are quite similar. Both have dark and light strips on their sides, but the chipmunk’s run along the side of his face too, whereas the golden-mantled ground squirrel has a plain cheek. He is a little larger too. The chipmunk goes into overdrive in the fall caching food for the long winter. They sleep a lot during the winter but rouse every so often and nibble from their larder. Golden-mantled ground squirrels prepare for winter by eating as much as possible. Often they end up with 30% of their weight in fat. By spring they will have used up their fat and emerge from hibernation ready to eat, mate, and scurry all too quickly through summer.
Doesn’t that sound rather fun? He gets to eat and eat and eat, then wakes up slim and ready to start eating all over again. Furthermore don’t you sometimes wish you could just sleep for three days and really get caught up on sleep? I’ll admit sleeping from October to May seems like overkill. I do look forward to my friends, books, paints, music….
And the little fella has one more reason to make me envious. He gets to eat truffles … those expensive little mushrooms that grow underground. Just for the fun of it I priced truffles on the internet …. $465.00 for 5 ounces of frozen black truffles. He gets to eat them for free! He even helps truffles by spreading their spores around in his feces.
I have to content myself with an occasional chocolate truffle … and not too many of those.