Thursday, March 26, 2009

Hello, Mr. Chips

Here's another sure sign that Spring is definitely here: the chipmunk is up and about and scurrying about the stone walls and shrubby edges of the park.  This is probably a male, since the males emerge first.  I don't know why.  It's not like the birds, where the males arrive early to find and defend nesting sites.  Female chipmunks already have their own burrows.  Maybe, as with us humans, the females carry more body fat and so last out the winter longer in their underground boudoirs.  But soon it will be rise and shine for the girls as well.  Then they'll find the right fellow and spend the next couple of months tending babies (the males don't hang around to help).  Here up north, the chipmunks will often breed only once a year, with two to five young at a time. Further south, where the summers last longer, they often raise two litters.

Do chipmunks hibernate?  Well, kind of.  But not deeply.  They do go into a kind of torpor, with heart rate slowed and body temperature fallen and consequent sleepiness.  But they rouse themselves from time to time during the winter to pee and poop and feed on the stores of food they stashed away last fall in their many-chambered burrows.  True hibernation is when the animal lives on nothing all winter but its own stored fat.

At any rate, I'm always glad to see them: one of the prettiest little creatures Nature ever came up with.  I'd sacrifice a few flower bulbs and tolerate a few holes in my yard just to have them around.  I suppose the serious gardeners and groundskeepers welcome them the same way they do dandelions.  But I love dandelions, too.

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