Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Looking for Round-tails

It's that time of year...















when round-tailed ground squirrels (Spermophilus tereticaudus) wake up from winter hibernation and venture out of their underground burrows searching for new plant growth to eat. Round-tails look similar to groundhogs and prairie dogs, but they're much smaller, only about a quarter pound.
An amusing groundhog-like behavior they have is to stand up on their hind legs watching for predators. And, they will peep or whistle to warn others of impending danger.
Sabino Canyon is home to three kinds of squirrels, all ground dwellers. The most common are round-tails, and also easy to find are Harris' antelope squirrels, which resemble chipmunks. I rarely see rock squirrels; they are the closest to "normal" looking tree squirrels, but their tails aren't as bushy. These round-tail photos were taken at Sabino Canyon last summer. I hope to take more pictures of ground squirrels at the canyon this year.

This round-tail was peaking out from under a trash receptacle where it was hiding.
Then, it came out to get a quick drink from a puddle of rainwater.
It looks like the squirrel uses its tail the way a kangaroo does to help balance when standing up.
I've always been fond of squirrels. Growing up in Southern California, tree squirrels held my attention before I became interested in watching birds. I was surprised to learn that there are not any native tree squirrels in the Sonoran Desert. It does make sense though, since there aren't many tall trees. And it is cooler underground for desert squirrels. We haven't seen any squirrels in our yard yet.

But, I recently noticed dirt mounding up under some shrubs and discovered this nearly 2" wide hole in the ground under the bushes, and a weed with some tender ends nibbled off.


According to my field guide to desert holes, openings of the burrows of round-tailed ground squirrels are from 1.5 to 2.5 inches. I found it interesting to learn that they dig a network of tunnels with nest chambers three feet deep. I don't know how any animal can dig through the hard layer of caliche in my yard, but we'll see what happens.

I also found this strange cat atop a nearby wall overlooking our garden. So, maybe I won't be seeing round-tails in our yard, but I'm still on the lookout for them at Sabino Canyon.
Update: I spotted my first round-tailed ground squirrel of 2009 at Sabino Canyon on February 27th. This one was peaking out of a hole that was heavily guarded by spiny cholla stems.
This post is included in Carnival of the Arid #2. Visit Chris Clarke's Coyote Crossing to see more posts about deserts from around the world.

18 comments:

BC Doan said...

My goodness, I was totally immerse with your interesting post about the round tails...This is something I didn't know, and learn a lot from this post Diane!

Gaelyn said...

Those little round tails are adorable. I love the way they use their tail as a support. Your post is delightfully written, I enjoy every one.

Teri C said...

Geez, evertime I come here I learn so much! I have seen these little guys but never knew that was their name (I did know the jojoba tho :). The photos are adorable! Thanks again for my learning something new today.

Vickie said...

Never have seen a round-tail before. Nice post. The cat does look menacing!

Dee said...

Those squirrels are so dang cute! I love how he stretches up so skinny and tall! Wonderful pictures and great information!

Max said...

Great photos! I especially like the one of the squirrel "loitering" on the corner.

RuthieJ said...

what a cute little critter! It reminds me of the 13-lined ground squirrels we have here in Minnesota (except without the 13 stripes). They're little troublemakers in my perennial gardens too.

Glynis said...

I have never heard of these little guys before! Lovely!

Robin Easton said...

Hmm, I posted a comment here just now but I don't think it went through. The page just vanished.

I will try again: :) I LOVE your photos here and I wish I had been there to see this little guy. I especially loved the one on the cornor. He tells a whole story in that one photos. They look almost human when they stand erect. This is also a very informative post. I LOVE nature photography and would like to have a photo blog at some point. Your writing is very good too. I sense you connection to the land around you. Wonderful! Hugs, Robin

Denise said...

Wonderful post and so infomative. Enjoyed my visit. Your photos were great. The one of the ground squirrel reminded me of the Geico Gecko. I half expected him to start talking in a London accent.

Rana said...

I really enjoyed this post - I love seeing the way that wild things find niches in human habitat to inhabit - we're not nearly as in control as some of us would like to believe!

Bev said...

Excellent post and super photos, especially the one of the squirrel standing as though using its tail for support.

Anonymous said...

Round tails are Cute... But very destructive. If anyone wants them in thier yard I would be glad to trap them and give them to you. The only upside is that I get a lot of diverse wildlife in my yard that feed on them. I have three Harris Hawks living in my area that hang around. The down side is I get rattle snakes showing up for a snack. BTW I live in the Sabino canyon area.

S

Anonymous said...

I fogot to mention that I have seen roundtails kill baby quail on numerous occasions. :(

S

conservtv said...

Ditto the killing of baby quail

Anonymous said...

In summer, rountails eat almost 100 percent green vegetation, while in fall greens drop to 75 percent of the total, with seeds making up the other 25 percent.

Anonymous said...

bla bla bla..

Anonymous said...

I loved watching them run around and their "kiss-kiss" behavior when meeting one another!

I trapped several, found the friendliest, let the rest go....

Personalities vary, but i found one, "Snuggles," the most fun pet i ever had!!

Very handleable, never nipped,loved to snuggle against my body in cool temps; he'd sleep under my sweater for hours. I let him run all over my apartment for excercise and always could easily pick him to return him to his cage.

He loved eating spaghetti sauce and cheese!

I'll get another next time i go to AZ.