Skip to Content

Chipmunks vs. Squirrels (5 Ways They Differ)

Chipmunks vs. Squirrels (5 Ways They Differ)

Share this post:

This post may contain affiliate links. If you click an affiliate link and make a purchase, I may earn a commission. Also, as an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

Regardless of where you live in the US, you’ve probably had chipmunks and squirrels visit your backyard.

At first glance, you might find it hard to differentiate between the two animals. However, there are several differences between these two furry creatures.

In this chipmunk vs. squirrel comparison, we’ll explore the differences and similarities between both animals. From their appearances to their behavior, keep reading to find the details!

Chipmunks vs. Squirrels: What Are the Differences?

Here are five differences to help you tell chipmunks and squirrels apart:

1 – Physical Characteristics

Size, weight, body shape, and fur color are some of the primary traits that can help you tell chipmunks and squirrels apart.

Let’s dig deeper into each characteristic!

Size and Weight

Regardless of the species, most chipmunks are typically smaller than squirrels. The former has an average body length between 3 and 6 inches. The tail adds another 2.5-5.5 inches, making chipmunks’ total size around 6–10 inches long.

Squirrels, on the other hand, come in various lengths. Large species belonging to the genus Ratufa have a body length between 10 and 18 inches and a tail similar in size. Smaller species, such as pygmy squirrels, reach around 4 to 6 inches long.

As for the weight, generally, chipmunks weigh between 2 and 5 ounces.

As for squirrels, large species can reach 3 to 7 pounds, while smaller ones weigh between 0.5 and 1.5 ounces.

Body Shape and Features

Compared to chipmunks, squirrels have longer, lankier bodies. However, they have muscular limbs, and their feet (hind limbs) are larger than their hands due to their arboreal nature.

Additionally, squirrels have longer tails with bushy fur. Chipmunks, on the other hand, have small, round bodies and short tails.

While both animals have similar facial features, chipmunks contain cheek pouches. Not only does that help them store food, but it also makes their faces slightly chubbier than squirrels’.

Fur Color and Pattern

Although fur color varies from one species to another, chipmunks typically have reddish-brown fur.

As for squirrels, they vary from gray to different brown shades. Other colors can also go into the mix, including yellow, orange, red, and black.

What separates chipmunks from squirrels is their long body stripes, which alternate between white, gray, and brown.

Some squirrel species can have the former feature as well.

However, chipmunks’ stripes run across their entire body, including the head. In contrast, squirrels only have stripes only on their bodies.

2 – Habitat and Distribution

Except for the Siberian variety, most chipmunks are abundant in North America. The former species primarily lives in Asia.

As for the rest of the species, they span from southern Canada all the way to west-central Mexico.

Squirrels live pretty much everywhere. They’re native to the Americas, Europe, Asia, and Africa. Plus, you can find those exotic animals in Australia, although they’re an immigrant species.

Chipmunks mainly live in deciduous forests and bushy lands. However, you can also find them in mountains and deserts.

Since squirrels prefer living in trees (arboreal animals), they thrive in mature forests. You can find them in tropical rainforests, shrub habitats, and semiarid deserts.

The only places squirrels find it hard to live are polar regions and dry deserts.

3 – Hibernation

For those who don’t know, hibernation is a state characterized by reduced metabolism and minimal activity. Animals enter such a state during the winter to conserve their energy and survive the lack of food during the cold months.

Chipmunks don’t hibernate during the entire winter. They sleep for a few days, then wake up to eat stored food and get rid of body waste.

Those small exotic animals can also search for food in the cold before returning to their dens.

Squirrels don’t hibernate; only ground squirrels enter that stage during the winter.

So, how do they survive the cold season? They simply add fat to their bodies!

Squirrels spend the fall eating to gain a few pounds. That fat layer helps keep them warm.

Plus, those arboreal animals collect supplies so that they don’t have to search for food in the cold.

4 – Diet and Lifespan

Both chipmunks and squirrels have a similar diet, with only a few differences. The former is an omnivore, meaning they eat both plants and animals.

Primarily, chipmunks savor various nuts and seeds. They can also eat fruits, like berries, and vegetables.

However, that’s not the only food chipmunks like. They eat grass, shoots, and other plant materials.

Additionally, those little squirrel-looking animals enjoy mushrooms (fungi), insects, bird eggs, and even small frogs! They pretty much eat anything smaller than their size.

Squirrels aren’t picky eaters, either. However, unlike chipmunks, they are mainly herbivores.

Those tree climbers prefer feeding on seeds and nuts. Still, they will eat insects and small animals when necessary.

As for lifespan, chipmunks usually have a shorter life span than squirrels. The former can live between 2-5 years and up to 6-10 years in captivity.

Squirrels can last 5-10 years. However, some species can live up to an impressive 20 years in captivity.

5 – Communication and Vocalization

Both chipmunks and squirrels make sounds to communicate. Mainly, those animals vocalize to warn their species of surrounding threats, like predators.

However, chipmunks and squirrels produce sounds to attract potential mates. The only difference is the type of sound they make.

Generally, chipmunks make high-pitched, chirping calls that almost resemble birds for warnings. Mating calls, however, can be a mix of croaks and chirps.

As for squirrels, they also had a wide range of vocals. They produce squeaks, grunts, and barks.

Another common sound squirrels make is a screeching noise while flicking their tails. Baby squirrels can also produce a chirping sound.

Chipmunks vs. Squirrels: How Are They Similar?

Now that you know the differences between chipmunks and squirrels, let’s discuss their similarities!

1 – Environmental Importance

Each animal plays a vital role in maintaining a healthy environment—chipmunks, as well as squirrels, are no different!

Both animals work as gardeners since they help disperse seeds. As you know, chipmunks and squirrels have the habit of storing food.

They collect fallen seeds and bury them in various locations. Not only does that help plants maintain their population, but it also helps them expand into other areas.

Aside from trees, mushrooms also rely on rodents to disperse their spores.

What’s more, chipmunks and squirrels play important roles in the food chain.

As you know, those small creatures serve as a delicious meal for many predators, like hawks, among other animals. Without rodents, many of their eaters might go extinct, disturbing the ecosystem.

2 – Carry Infectious Diseases

Like most animals, chipmunks and squirrels can carry harmful microorganisms that cause infectious diseases. One of the popular diseases those animals can spread is the plague, also known as the Black Death.

You see, rodents can harbor fleas on their fur. Those tiny insects are blood feeders.

When biting an infected chipmunk or squirrel, they can carry the plague bacteria, Yersinia pestis.

Likewise, if those insects feed on your blood, they can transmit the harmful organism, causing severe illnesses.

Aside from the plague, those tiny animals carry other diseases, including typhus, salmonellosis, and ringworm.

3 – Illegal Pets

In most US states, it’s illegal to have chipmunks and squirrels as pets. Even if you come across an injured one, you need to obtain a permit and a rehabilitating license to heal them.

While some states allow the purchase of chipmunks and squirrels from breeders, it’s not recommended to have wild animals as pets. They have specific needs that are hard to meet. Plus, it’s challenging to train and tame exotic creatures.

Do Chipmunks and Squirrels Get Along?

While they are part of the same family, Sciuridiae, chipmunks, and squirrels generally don’t interact much. They are neither friends nor enemies.

Chipmunks are ground creatures; they love to spend most of their time in burrows.

Squirrels, as you know, prefer to climb trees. So, there isn’t much overlap between both animals.

Additionally, both are solitary creatures; you won’t find those exotic animals socializing unless for mating. That’s especially true for adults.

However, squirrels can group up during the winter to share their body temperatures, which helps keep each other warm.

Can You Keep Pet Chipmunks and Squirrels in the Same Cage?

Generally, no. You can’t keep pet chipmunks and squirrels in the same cage.

Chipmunks are territorial. They won’t hesitate to bite and fight aggressively to defend their place.

That’s especially true if you’ve paired two males. In that case, both animals will fight with the other male partner, whether a chipmunk or a squirrel.

Female chipmunks and squirrels can get along as long as they’ve been together from a young age. Still, that can vary depending on the species.

For instance, red squirrels are highly aggressive, territorial animals. They can’t let anything around them live in peace.

So, whether it’s their own or chipmunks, red squirrels won’t get along and will attack other animals.

Can Chipmunks and Squirrels Mate?

No, chipmunks and squirrels can’t mate. While they’re distant cousins that belong to the same family, you won’t find a chipmunk-squirrel hybrid in nature.

That’s because both animals don’t have much genetic compatibility to mate and produce living babies. Sure, they came from a common ancestor.

However, that was 20 million years ago! With such a long period of adaptation and evolution, it’s less likely to find significant genetic resemblance.

Zoologists even classify them into two genera: Tamias for chipmunks and Sciurus for squirrels.

Will a Squirrel Kill a Chipmunk?

Yes, a squirrel can kill a chipmunk. However, that’s not the shocking part. The former can also eat its distant cousin!

That’s especially true for red squirrels. Those creatures are natural predators of chipmunks.

Generally, squirrels prefer seeds and nuts, as mentioned earlier.

However, a hungry squirrel can kill and feed on baby chipmunks. Still, that’s not an everyday occasion, as those animals rely mainly on plants and nuts for nutrition.

Final Thoughts

When comparing chipmunks vs. squirrels, you can see that both species have several characteristics that distinguish them.

Generally, squirrels are bigger, with longer and lankier bodies. Chipmunks are small and have distinctive stripes that run across their entire bodies.

Aside from physical appearances, those animals differ in habitat, behavior, diet, and vocalization. Knowing those key differences can help you identify which animal is visiting your backyard and take the appropriate measures to protect it!


If you want more backyard tips including recipes, how-tos and more, make sure you subscribe to my youtube channel

Share this post: