Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Envy: Golden-mantled Ground Squirrel

Lake of the Woods, Oregon, USA: Oct. 12, 2011
Dale and I are on our way to the Klamath Basin. To get from the ‘West Side’ to the ‘East Side’ we drive up and over the Cascade Mountains. Shortly before we reach the summit we pull into Lake of the Woods Recreational Area just to see what we can see. In summer this place buzzes with boats, campers, fishing, biking. Today is grey, damp and quiet. Only two campers; the little store is closed until the weekend. We hear a raven in the distance and spook a flicker foraging along the roadside.

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.


  1. It is too bad that we can't stuff ourselves with truffles and sleep for such a long time. These little fellows are cute with their golden mantle. I did think it was a chipmunk before you explained the difference. I rarely see chipmunks around here. They are around but not in my neighborhood.

  2. I'm not sure that giving up seven or eight months of the year would be worth it, but I can certainly understand the allure!

  3. What a cute and informative post. Gosh, I just want to pinch those fat little cheeks.

  4. What a pretty little thing. I am wondering Elva..Do we have chipmunks around here? I have never seen any.

  5. Priceless!! Photos, sketch, and tales!!!

  6. Well done again! Can't wait to see more from Klamath Basin.

  7. Hi Elva, I'm happy to find your blog! Cute post about the Ground Squirrel. Wonderful photography and sketch!

  8. Thank you all for your comments. And Chris, yes we have chipmunks, but I don't expect them in the valley. I know we find them at Lake in the Woods; probably find them as soon as the forest starts.

  9. Huh, I didn't know this! I was expecting you to say that these were campground beggers, unhealthily overweight from marshmallows and Cheetos fed to them by campers....and now in trouble for the coming winter from all that junk food. So the actual story took me by surprise. I always love to learn new things like this. Thanks!