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Do Chipmunks Have Tails? (Yes, And Here Are 4 Uses For Them)

Do Chipmunks Have Tails? (Yes, And Here Are 4 Uses For Them)

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Chipmunks are small rodents that are native to North America. They resemble squirrels in terms of general appearance, but they’re smaller than squirrels and have striped bodies.

These tiny furballs are commonly brown in color with a darker lining from their head that goes all the way down to their tail.

Do chipmunks have tails, though?

The answer is yes, chipmunks do have tails. The length of the tail and the fluffiness of the base can vary based on the type of chipmunk.

Read on to learn more about chipmunk tails.

Chipmunks and Their Tails

Generally, chipmunks can be of Eastern and Western descent. Eastern chipmunks (Tamias striatus) can grow their tail up to 4-10 cm (1.5 to 4 inches).

The Western chipmunk (Eutamias minimus), on the other hand, can grow its tail from only 1.6-4.0 cm (0.6 to 1.5 inches).

Often chipmunks are mistaken for squirrels. Both share a lot of behavioral tendencies and vary mainly in physical traits.

Squirrels can grow bigger, and their tail, depending on their type, can grow longer and fluffier than that of chipmunks. Squirrel tails tend to curl at the end as well.

Chipmunks usually have shorter tails that lie straighter and are less bushier.

Do Chipmunks Need Tails?

We may think that rodent tails are insignificant or maybe even an inconvenience, but that’s far from true. In reality, rodent tails play a major role in their survival.

Like any rodent, chipmunks use their tails for various reasons:

1 – It Regulates Their Temperature

In North America, the temperature can change drastically. During summer, the heat can go up to 134℉ and drop to -81.4℉ during winter.

For chipmunks to survive, their tail has evolved to adjust to their environment’s weather. During colder temperatures, the blood vessels in the tail constrict. This way, the heat is concentrated in the chipmunk’s body.

While in hotter temperatures, the blood vessels in the tail relax. This allows the excess heat from the chipmunk’s body to go on the tail.

2 – It Keeps Their Balance

If you live near the woods, you might get one or two chipmunk visitors in your yard.

Often, you’ll see them walking on thin fences or crawling on high places effortlessly. This agility is partly because of their tail, which enables them to balance their weight.

Think of your hands that you use to keep your balance while you walk on a beam or carry a bucket full of water. That’s how their tail works.

3 – It Distracts Their Predators

Chipmunks are among the animals that are at the bottom of the food chain. Most of the time, they’re helpless when chased by predators, but thanks to their tails, they may escape death’s door.

A chipmunk’s tail can act as a distractor to its predator. The chances are high that they’ll be caught by the tail and it will get injured.

That said, a wound on the tail is less severe than on the body, and a chipmunk can still live with an injured tail.

4 – It’s Used For Mating

Mother nature has its ways of keeping the population of different species stable. For chipmunks, wagging their tails side to side indicates interest in mating.

What Does It Mean When a Chipmunk Wags Its Tail?

A chipmunk uses chittering noise and their tail to communicate. The movement of their tail could mean many things depending on the situation. Check them out below:

1 – Warning

A chipmunk flickering its tail rapidly is giving out a warning.

It can either be that there’s a predator nearby and it’s trying to warn the others, or it doesn’t want other chipmunks to get near when it’s eating.

If you see a chipmunk flickering its fluffy tail with its cheek full of nuts, it’s best to stay away.

2 – Response to Threat

Animals have different ways of responding to threats.

When a chipmunk is startled by a predator, it will usually remain still while flicking its tail. It’s an anticipating movement as it waits for its predator to make the next move.

Once it senses the predator coming closer, it will immediately run away. On some occasions, it can also act as bait to heat-sensing predators like snakes.

Chipmunks can let the heat accumulate to its tail, making snakes, which rely only on detecting heat to hunt, chase for it rather than their body.

3 – Attracting a Mate

The squirrel mating period usually begins in the latter part of February and until the start of May.

You might notice males trying to shake their tails (almost shivering) to attract a mate during this time. They would do this continuously while slowly getting closer to a female.

Think of it like a mating ritual dance for chipmunks.

Do Chipmunks Lose Their Tails?

Yes, they can. It’s a pretty wild world out there. A lot of things could lead a chipmunk to lose its tail. One of the most common reasons is trying to get away from a predator.

Underneath the fur of a chipmunk’s tail is a thin layer of skin covering an extension of its spine and some nerve endings.

Though it looks fluffy and full, a chipmunk’s tail is very delicate. It’s actually quite easy to break off. So, when a chipmunk is captured by the tail, it can easily escape.

Do Chipmunk Tails Grow Back?

Unlike reptiles, chipmunks can’t grow back their tails. This is common to mammals as they don’t have enough stem cells to support regeneration.

On the bright side, chipmunks heal relatively fast. When a chipmunk loses its tail, the wounded area will turn black first and look almost like a scab. Once it comes off, it would look like bare skin.

In some cases, the fur grows back, but for most chipmunks, the spot where there used to be a tail will stay bald.

Can a Chipmunk Survive Without Its Tail?

It depends on the situation. Some chipmunks that get their wound contaminated have a high chance of dying because of infection.

Generally, though, a chipmunk can survive without its tail—it’s just that it will have a hard time adjusting to its environment.

A chipmunk’s tail has various essential roles, as discussed above. Losing it leaves a chipmunk less agile. It can also be difficult for a tail-less chipmunk to regulate its body temperature, ward off predators, and even find a mate.

Final Thoughts

A chipmunk’s tail is one of the most important parts of its body. More than making them look cute, it helps them survive by regulating their temperature, keeping their balance, confusing their predators, and enticing potential mates.

In some cases, when a chipmunk loses its tail, it can still survive, though it will have a hard time adjusting to its environment and at the risk of getting preyed on.


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