The Naturalist: Advice from a chipmunk: How to prepare for colder weather in Wilton

Autumn is a dynamic time in the natural world. While we scurry to get our pumpkin spice lattes, the animals scurry around preparing themselves for winter. An excellent example of this is the Eastern Chipmunk’s fall preparation. Have you ever noticed these cute critters with an unusually large amount of food in their cheeks? It’s probably to gather enough supplies for the cold months ahead.

Chipmunks gather many different types of food. Some favorites include corn kernels, sunflower seeds, beechnuts, and acorns. But how do you hold all these items if you need all four limbs to walk? By stuffing them in your mouth of course. Chipmunks, and other rodents including hamsters, have cheek pouches that in some species can go all the way back to their shoulder blades. This creates a lot more space relative to their body size compared to human cheeks. With these pouches, chipmunks can store as much as the size of their whole body in food. But, as you can imagine, running with full cheek pouches will tend to cause floppy cheeks.

After gathering all the food, the chipmunk scurries back to their underground burrow to keep it for storage. This storage bank will be visited every 2-3 weeks throughout the winter when the chipmunk needs to feed. This food storage behavior is vital to chipmunk survival because seeds, nuts, and acorns are of course not produced in the winter.

So what are the lessons a chipmunk would give us as the weather starts to turn colder? Always be prepared and don’t be afraid to pack an extra snack. Also, chubby cheeks can last for weeks.

Sources:

Holland, Mary. Naturally Curious. North Pomfret: Trafalgar Square Books, 2010.

https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/article/cheek-pouches-stuffed-animals-news