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Small Mammals of North Dakota

Richardson's Ground Squirrel

Spermophilus richardsonii

JPG-Richardson's Ground Squirrel GIF- Range Map
Richardson's Ground Squirrel
Range Map

This squirrel is a burrowing mammal which prefers to inhabit sandy, well-drained soils of prairies and pastures throughout north and eastern North Dakota. Also known commonly as the "flickertail," it is buffy yellow in color with a light brown tail tinged with black. The ears are very short and appear as open slits in the side of its head.

Richardson ground squirrels could possibly be confused with the Franklin's ground squirrel which can also be found in eastern North Dakota. The Franklin's is similar in size but has a longer tail and is more grey in appearance.

Richardson ground squirrels are only active during daylight hours and dig their meandering burrows about 3 1/2 inches in diameter, 15-20 feet in length, and 4-5 feet below the surface. Each burrow has a mound of excavated dirt at the entrance where the animal can often be seen standing. The burrow leads to a spherical nesting chamber lined with grasses and straw. These ground squirrels are colonial and often burrows are only a few feet apart. Densities of up to 20 squirrels per acre are not uncommon in favorable habitat.

Like other ground squirrels, the Richardson appears above-ground in the warm days of spring after hibernation. Breeding takes place within a few days after the female emerges. Young are born underground in late April to early May. By late May or early June, the 6-8 young come out of the burrow and begin to forage. Not more than one-fourth of juvenile females and males survive to see the next year. Adults rarely live more than three or four years.

A high death rate for the Richardson ground squirrel is contributed to a variety of factors. Many are eaten by predators during the period when young disperse to find new territories. However, this ground squirrel has many enemies even after it is established in a colony. Badgers excavate many burrows to find a meal, weasels and snakes are small enough to actually crawl in the burrow, and birds such as the eagles, hawks, and falcons take them unexpectedly from above.

The cheek pouches of this ground squirrel often contribute to its head looking larger in size in comparison to its body. Seeds and available fruits are gathered in early spring and late summer to be eaten but are also stored for later use. When the plants of late spring emerge, they become the primary food source. The Richardson will also eat remains of dead animals (carrion).

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