While wandering around the block, getting some exercise during quarantine, I stumbled upon a Wyoming Ground Squirrel — in Colorado. It came out on a rock and munched on a piece of grass while I stared at it. Usually, that area would have cars parked bumper to bumper trying to get free parking in Vail. But, without all of the tourists, the area only had about four cars scattered there and this Wyoming Ground Squirrel made a home burrowed in between several boulders.
When I saw it, the ground squirrel decided it liked the sun as much as I did and sat pleasantly, blending into the rock. It paused its chewing as I approached and watched me, grass sticking out of its mouth. I inched closer and it ate the rest of the grass in one quick movement. Slinking ever closer, it crawled back between the boulders, but stayed near the edge. I stopped and watched as the ground squirrel watched me. Not finished sunning itself, the ground squirrel slowly crawled back out of the rock and laid back down. This time, I saw the tail with a hint of white on it.
As with quarantine walks, eventually, a car drove by and it hurried back into its burrow. I check that spot almost every day and I have not seen it again in the past two weeks. Despite the warmer sunshine, it has not returned.
Ground Squirrel Defining Characteristics:
- Light gray over almost whole mammal
- 2-4 inch tail with some white coloring
- Mostly inset ears
- No stripes on head nor back like other squirrels
- Head and body reach 7-9.5 inches long
- Often mistaken for prairie dogs
- Shrub covered terrain
The Wyoming Ground Squirrel ranges from southwestern Montana to Colorado, with high numbers in Wyoming. Others exist in southern Idado, southern Oregon, and Northern Nevada.
Wyoming Ground Squirrel & The Journal
As the first mammal in the Traveling Nature Journal, the ground squirrel felt exciting. I picked up a field guide to mammals in Colorado at the library and doubled checked the Wyoming Ground Squirrel against several prairie dogs just to make sure. Knowing the common mistake, I flipped back and forth. They are also related to the Yellow-Bellied Marmot.
When I approached sketching the ground squirrel, I went with a simplistic sketch. I opted for the basics — flatter, long tail; clawed feet; small, mostly inset ears; and the large eye on the side of the head. I have yet to delve into sketching fur or colors. Hoping that the photo included would convey the colors of the squirrel, I allowed the sketch to only show the overall shape.
The photo included depicts the ground squirrel eating a leaf of grass. Three weeks ago, the grass had just begin to revitalize after a winter of deep snow. Some sprang up with snow patches still nearby in shadier areas. That the squirrel found any green grass showed its cleverness. Most of the surrounding vegetation still laid dormant or under snow.
Looking toward the summer, I expect to see more ground squirrels as the snow melts. Here, the local newspapers call them pests. More and more ground squirrels have begun to migrate into central and northern Colorado, and thus have started to compete with other squirrels. I’ll keep looking for them in other areas to see what else they do!