Sounds Wild


Download Episode: Chipmunks (MP3 file 1,404 kB)



On a trip to the Yukon, I see a small, striped animal I know well from my childhood in Oregon. It's a chipmunk. The chipmunks running around this campground near Whitehorse are least chipmunks, Tamias minimus, the northernmost chipmunk in the west. Weighing just an ounce or two, they are the smallest chipmunks and also the most widespread chipmunk in North America. In the Yukon they're found almost as far north as the Arctic Circle, but they don't range west into Alaska.

The scientific name for chipmunks, Tamias, means storer. Alaska is home to six kinds of squirrels, and Alaska's most familiar tree squirrel, the red squirrel, shares the name "storer" as well as the trait. Like chipmunks, red squirrels don't hibernate and are active throughout the winter. They survive by eating their extensive cache of stored food. Cones are the most familiar squirrel food, but they also store mushrooms, fruit and seeds.

The red squirrel is the smallest North American tree squirrel, weighing about half a pound. Also known as the chickaree or pine squirrel, it is found in forested areas across Alaska and Canada and down the Rocky Mountains. Alaska's other squirrels include the Arctic ground squirrel and the Northern Flying squirrel. Marmots are also squirrels, big ground squirrels, which means that Alaska is home to both the smallest tree squirrel and largest ground squirrel, the hoary marmot, which can weigh 20 pounds.