When the Chipmunks I Photographed Are Squirrels: How to Tell the Difference Between Chipmunks and Squirrels

Do you know the difference between the chipmunk and squirrel? I thought squirrels have one basic look–brownish gray, fluffy–and animals that look somewhat similar but striped are chipmunks. Wrong.

When I was in Chemult Oregon, I was excited to snap a few pics of the famed chipmunks in that area. Rumor has it chipmunks populate the woods, all the way to the tourist parts of Crater Lake. The chipmunks are said to be very people-friendly and can you blame them? People have snacks. The adorable chipmunk does its best beggar’s pose and the people toss it a Cheeto. For reasons why you shouldn’t feed wildlife, click here to read an in depth article on Mental Floss.

I took several photos of squirrels and chipmunks in their natural habitat. After moving the photos onto my computer, I was curious about the rodents. I think I don’t actually have photos of chipmunks, but of tree squirrels and ground squirrels. The ground squirrel is strikingly similar in appearance to a chipmunk with some minor differences.

Links for articles about the differences

20 Charming Pictures of Ground Squirrels and Chipmunks

Differences Between a Chipmunk and a Squirrel

This article is my favorite because it gets into the various types of squirrels found in the Pacific Northwest. Oregon Wildlife Species

What is the Difference Between a Squirrel and a Chipmunk?

Here’s a crash course I’ll call: Is it a squirrel or chipmunk

(All photographs are mine unless noted otherwise.)

Pictured below is probably what people imagine when they think of a squirrel. I was sitting on the patio when I spotted this squirrel nibbling away in a tree. I’m 99% certain this is a Douglas squirrel. Click here for comparison images

Douglas squirrel. No stripes on the head or body. Fluffy tail.

I was sitting on the front porch, enjoying the view and studying my Oceanography textbook, when this guy scurried past my feet and began drinking from a puddle. Luckily, I had my camera so I snuck in a few photos.

Douglas squirrel

This one, I was convinced, is a chipmunk. I thought big and fluffy = squirrel and small and striped = chipmunk. But there’s more to proper identification than stripes; placement of the stripes matters. The main difference is the ground squirrel has no stripes on its head while the chipmunk’s stripes carry from the body to the head.

Golden mantled ground squirrel

The Golden-Mantled Ground Squirrel doubtlessly is the most distinctively marked ground squirrel in Oregon; a white stripe bordered on both sides by a black stripe extends from the shoulder to the hip. From nose to nape above the eye, the head is russet. The back between the stripes is grizzled dark grayish-brown becoming less grizzled on the rump; lateral to the stripes the color grades to a light buffy-gold on the venter. The face, shoulders, front legs, and feet a bright orange-gold. – Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife

The photo below is the only one that makes me doubtful. I want to say it’s the golden-mantled ground squirrel, but it does look slightly different than the one pictured above. The jury is still out on this one, but I can definitively say it’s a squirrel OR chipmunk!

Ground squirrel or chipmunk?

For reference, the photo below is 100% a chipmunk. The head stripes are clear and pronounced, which isn’t always the case. Sometimes, the stripes are subtle and that’s when it gets a bit confusing to differentiate the two.

Chipmunk. Courtesy of Washington Nature Mapping Program

Squirrel or chipmunk, I enjoyed sharing the outdoors with these little guys. They really are fun to watch as they scurry around, searching for the random morsel. They aren’t as bold as the ones in the tourist areas–so I hear–but they weren’t afraid of me either. Most of the time, I didn’t realize they were all around me, the little ninjas!

The view I was enjoying when the squirrel decided to join me


2 comments on “When the Chipmunks I Photographed Are Squirrels: How to Tell the Difference Between Chipmunks and Squirrels”
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