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Chipmunk Vs Squirrel (10 Differences)

Chipmunks and squirrels are two similar animals that both belong to the Sciuridae family, which includes around 280 different species. They can easily be confused with one another due to the sheer amount of similarities that these animals share. But what are the differences between the chipmunk vs squirrel?

Chipmunk Vs Squirrel – 10 Differences

Chipmunk eating food | Image by 11417994 from Pixabay

Chipmunks are often thought of as the smaller cousin of the squirrel. They are both found in the same or similar areas, and can be seen climbing on trees and running on the ground. They even consume the same type of food, and are often drawn to backyards due to bird feeders.

That doesn’t mean, however, that these two animals don’t have their differences. Keep reading to find out what these differences are.

1. Size

The biggest difference between the two is their size. Chipmunks are much smaller than squirrels, weighing in at 1 to 3 ounces, depending on the species. Squirrels, however, can weigh 1 to 2 pounds.

It’s not just their weight that contributes to their size difference. The overall height and length of the squirrel is larger than that of a chipmunk.

Squirrels are, on average, about 15 inches long and 15 inches tall. Chipmunks are usually around 8 inches long and stand about 3 to 4 inches tall.

2. Body Shape

Squirrel at rest in a branch
Squirrel at rest in a branch | image by C Watts via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

The body shapes of these two rodents are also different. Squirrels have longer bodies with a long bushy tail and no stripes. Chipmunks have short bodies and a thin but bushy tail.

They also have stripes on their backs. You will also notice that the legs of the squirrel are much longer than those of a chipmunk.

3. Fur Coloring

Chipmunks on a log
Chipmunks on a log | image by Rodney Campbell via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Along with the size of these two animals, their fur coloring and markings are another way to tell them apart. The body and fur of chipmunk vs squirrel are different, even if they may seem similar at first glance. They can both have brown fur, but squirrels can also come in hues of grey and reddish brown.

Chipmunks, however, have distinctive stripes that run from their head, down their back, and to their tail. Squirrels do not have these stripes and are more uniformed in color.

4. Home

Chipmunk exits burrow
Chipmunk exits burrow | image by EIC via Wikimedia Commons | CC BY-SA 3.0

Chipmunks and squirrels are often seen in the same general area, but they have different homes. Chipmunks prefer to live alone in dens, which are burrows or holes created in the ground or in tree stumps.  Squirrels typically live higher up in trees, though ground squirrels do typically live underground in burrows.

In most cases, you will find chipmunks living in their underground burrows and dens, while the squirrel will be living in their nest in a tree.

5. Lifespan

Squirrels have a longer lifespan than the chipmunk, and can live up to 12 years. The chipmunk’s lifespan is about half of that squirrel’s, living for only about 6 years.

6. Diet

Ground Squirrel eating carrot
Ground Squirrel eating carrot | image by Tambako The Jaguar via Flickr | CC BY-ND 2.0

While the squirrel and the chipmunk consume many of the same foods, such as seeds and nuts, the chipmunk has a more expansive diet. Unlike the squirrel, the chipmunk will also eat insects and berries.

7. Distribution

Chipmunks playing
Chipmunks playing | image by douglas haase via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Squirrels are found throughout the world except for in Antarctica and Australia. Chipmunks are not as widespread, and are only found in North America, Europe, and some parts of Asia. Squirrels can be found in Africa, while the chipmunk can not.

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8. Species

Another difference between chipmunks and squirrels is the amount of species that each one has. Squirrels have a much higher species count, boasting over 200 different types of squirrels. Chipmunks only have about 25 species.

9. Hibernation

Ground Squirrel sleeping in nest
Ground Squirrel sleeping in nest | image by Garst, Warren via Wikimedia Commons | CC BY-SA 4.0

Squirrels, unlike chipmunks, don’t need to hibernate in the winter. Instead, they stay snug in their nests consuming the food they stashed in preparation for the colder months. Chipmunks, however, do hibernate, spending the winter sleeping in their dens.

In areas where it gets colder sooner, the chipmunk will start hibernating in late October and won’t re-emerge until March. In the south where the winter doesn’t get as cold as quickly, the chipmunk won’t start hibernating until December and will only sleep until late January.

10. Destructiveness

You may assume that, since chipmunks are diggers, they would cause more destruction and damage to buildings and structures than their larger counterparts. However, squirrel infestations typically cause more problems for homeowners.

They also are more likely to dominate backyard bird feeders, consuming all the seeds and keeping the birds at bay. There are even bird feeders marketed as “squirrel proof” that are designed to keep squirrels out.

Squirrels are also more likely to nest in attics, causing damage to the inside of your home. That’s not to say chipmunks cannot also cause problems.

Their digging can leave holes in your yard, and cause potentially serious problems if they start to dig near your home’s foundation. With that said, however, they typically don’t find their way inside.