About us: We own the Wild Birds Unlimited nature shop in East Lansing, Michigan,
a store that provides a wide variety of supplies to help you enjoy the birdwatching hobby.

This blog was created to answer frequently asked questions & to share nature stories and photographs.
To contribute, email me at bloubird@gmail.com.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

How much food a chipmunk can hold in his mouth

Thank you for your interesting blog! I have been feeding chipmunks in my yard for the last four years. They are adorable and fascinating to watch. I am curious to know how much food can they fit in their cheek pouches?

I could find no volume measurements while researching chipmunks. However I have personally observed our chipmunks carry five peanuts in the shell at a time: two in each cheek pouch and one between its teeth. I have also watched him pack in 31 peanuts without shells.

Studies have found that some animals hoard simply out of instinct. A chipmunk spends much of its day collecting and storing seeds, which are its most important source of food. When preparing food for storage, the chipmunk uses its tongue to shift the seeds backwards and stuff them between their teeth and the extensible skin in the cheek area. 

The capacity of these cheek pouches increases with maturity. When the cheek pouches become full, the chipmunk deposits the seeds in its nest or buries them in shallow holes that it digs in the ground around his burrow and then covers with earth, leaves, and other litter. 

Eastern Chipmunks’ lifespan on average is only one year due to predators and man made dangers. They have two breeding seasons. The first begins in February and the second in June. They can have up to nine babies but average four.

Many people are frustrated by the amount of food they take away from bird feeding stations but chipmunks do have a purpose. They eat a lot of bugs and small rodents and are eaten by hawks, fox, owls, and other predators. And Mother Nature uses the chipmunks to spread plant seeds and fungi all around.

Eastern chipmunks live in shallow burrows made by digging and carrying away the dirt in their pouched mouths. These burrows can be up to 30 ft. in length with several different exits concealed with leaves and rocks.

The chipmunks’ cheek pouches also transfer food to their tunnels. They keep large stores of food in their burrows and build nests on top of this treasure. Eastern chipmunks, however, do not hibernate continuously through the winter, nor do they "fatten up" before retreating to their burrows. When the temperatures reach freezing, chipmunks go into their burrows to hibernate but wake up periodically to snack on their stored nuts and seeds.

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