On average, chipmunks live for around two years or more, depending on species type and various environmental factors. These cheeky rodents live relatively short, but colorful, lives in the wild and in captivity.
Chipmunks are beneficial to the environment as they help spread the seeds of plants and important fungi. Their adorable burrowing habits help aerate and recycle the soil as well.
Let’s explore the chipmunk lifestyle and answer the question: How long do chipmunks live? We’ll also take a look at these furry creatures’ survival needs, such as water, food, and safe habitats.
Chipmunks in the wild have an average lifespan of 2–3 years. The length of their lives depends on factors such as their exact species, food availability, predation, area climate, and other environmental conditions.
When kept in captivity, chipmunks live significantly longer—some survive for up to 11 years! The safe and secure habitat, reliable food supply, presence of medical aid, and controlled temperatures all contribute to the longevity of captive chipmunks.
Let’s examine several species of chipmunks and compare their average lifespans:
- Yellow-pine chipmunk: Yellow-pine chipmunks prefer to live in brushy forests and are primarily found in northwestern America. They can live for more than five years in the wild, with young chipmunks having a survival rate of 30%.
- Eastern chipmunk: This species of chipmunk is common in parts of Canada and throughout the eastern United States. They can survive for two years in the wild and eight years under ideal conditions in captivity.
- Least chipmunk: As their name implies, least chipmunks are the smallest species and one of the most common in North America. Their average lifespan is 2–3 years in the wild, which increases to 10 years in captivity.
- Siberian chipmunk: These chipmunks are native to northern Asia and are the only ones found outside of North America. Wild Siberian chipmunks have a lifespan of 2–5 years, which increases to 6–10 years in captivity.
- Townsend’s chipmunk: Townsend’s chipmunks are shyer than other species, and they live in the forests of British Columbia, Washington, and Oregon. Surprisingly, this species lives for 2 to 7 years in the wild, with a maximum lifespan of 10 years in captivity.
After getting to know the average lifespan of chipmunks, it’s time to get a glimpse of each stage of their life cycle. Note that chipmunks’ stages of growth and development generally stay consistent regardless of species.
Chipmunks reach sexual maturity when they’re one year old. Mature males’ testicles descend to their scrotal sac, while females ready to mate have enlarged openings.
These furry creatures mate 1–2 times yearly, usually during the early spring or late summer months. The process begins with male chipmunks traveling to female burrows and breeding sites to attract, pursue, and copulate with females.
Some chipmunks mate with more than one female, and a female chipmunk can get pregnant 1–3 times per season. Chipmunks are shy and solitary creatures, and mating season is one of the few occasions where males and females come together.
After breeding, female chipmunks chase the males away and prepare for their offspring on their own. During pregnancy, females become more territorial over their burrows and consume more animal matter than usual.
The gestation period lasts for around 31 days, and the average litter size is 4–5 young. Females give birth in extensive underground burrows, where the baby chipmunks are safe from predators and protected from harsh elements.
Chipmunks are born hairless, helpless, and blind, resembling the size of bumblebees. Other terms for newborn chipmunks are kittens, pups, and kits.
It takes around ten days for them to grow fur, 28 days to open their ears, 31 days to gain vision, and 3–4 weeks for their signature stripes to appear. After 40 days, they’re ready to leave the burrow for the first time, and the weaning process begins.
Mothers tend to leave their developed offspring in the burrow or move them to a different one for them to live independently. At eight weeks of age, the chipmunks are fully grown and capable of surviving on their own.
Chipmunks reach the peak of adulthood at 7–9 months, and by this time, their territory is as big as one acre. Adult chipmunks grow up to 8–10 inches in body length, including a tail that’s 3–4 inches long.
On average, fully grown chipmunks weigh between 2–5 ounces and have short and thick fur all over their body. Chipmunks can have tan, gray, rust, or brown fur and a belly that’s either white or cream in color.
These creatures have patterns of dark and light stripes running down their backs and ending on their dark tails. Male and female chipmunks look identical except for their genital areas.
Have you ever wondered why a chipmunk’s lifespan is so short? Well, that’s because these small creatures are vulnerable to the following factors:
Predator attacks are one of the top reasons why chipmunks don’t live for many years. To survive, chipmunks have to remain agile and alert against aerial predators, terrestrial predators, and human hunters looking for easy game.
As a result, chipmunks have developed unique ways of communication to warn others of an attack. They produce low-pitched chucks when they spot hawks, owls, eagles, and other predators in the air.
On the other hand, chipmunks emit high-pitched bird-like chips for ground predators like dogs, cats, snakes, coyotes, and bobcats. You’ll also hear them make trill vocalizations or high-pitched screams while actively running from a predator.
Chipmunks in the wild struggle to survive against harsh and fluctuating environmental conditions. Climate change causes unnaturally high temperatures in the winter, resulting in reduced hibernation and decreased winter survival for chipmunks.
Additionally, chipmunks tend to produce smaller litter sizes when the winter is long, and the food supply is inadequate. Relocating chipmunks during this time can cause them to lose their food stash and starve to death.
Similar to other members of the rodent family, chipmunks can become hosts to mites, lice, and ticks. As a result, they can carry Lyme disease and other tick-associated illnesses.
These creatures are also prone to ringworm, parasites, and respiratory problems, which can significantly reduce their expected lifespan.
Some of the common diseases that affect chipmunks in the wild and in captivity are as follows:
- Cheek pouch infection: Injuries sustained in fights and the insertion of sharp objects can cause infected cuts in a chipmunk’s cheek pouch. For chipmunks in captivity, an inappropriate nest material can result in this type of infection, too.
- Skin diseases such as alopecia and erythema: Stress, parasites, and the wrong food choice can cause chipmunks to lose their fur. Bald spots can also appear as a result of fungal infestations.
- Pyometra and cystitis: These diseases affect a chipmunk’s urogenital tract. Pyometra is a critical infection of the uterus, while cystitis involves the inflammation of the chipmunk’s bladder.
- Leptospirosis: The spread of leptospirosis occurs through the urine of infected chipmunks, squirrels, and other wildlife. Leptospirosis can affect humans as well, resulting in symptoms such as fever, vomiting, and muscle ache.
Chipmunks can only survive for 2–3 days without water. Small-sized animals, such as squirrels and chipmunks, require only a tiny amount of water, around 30–60 mL per day.
In the wild, these creatures use water from ponds, lakes, rivers, and oceans to drink and clean their bodies. They can also get a drink from the dew on plant leaves, puddles of rainwater, and standing water on roads.
Newborn chipmunks mainly depend on their mothers’ milk to sustain their nutritional requirements until they’re old enough to leave their burrows. As adults, chipmunks typically drink water twice a day.
In more urban settings, it’s common for chipmunks to access water from birdbaths, fountains, backyard pools, and bowls. They also gain water from moisture-rich vegetables, fruits, mushrooms, and other food sources.
Chipmunks can’t last for more than three days without food as they have high metabolisms. This means that they burn many calories during daily activities, such as foraging for food and escaping from predators.
Another reason why chipmunks need so much food is because they have to fatten up in preparation for winter. Building up body fat on whatever food they can find allows them to hibernate properly and use their stored energy to survive the winter season.
A single chipmunk can collect up to 165 acorns in just one day—that’s a lot! Its cheeks have special pouches that can expand to reach the full size of its body, perfect for carrying nuts, fruit, grain, and seeds.
Chipmunks don’t stay in the exact same spot every year, but they do spend most of their lives within their home range. Home ranges vary in size, from 0.04–1.26 hectares, depending on the food availability in a certain area.
A chipmunk’s home range includes its burrow or dominance area, which it fiercely protects against invaders. Underground burrows are usually three feet deep and around 30 feet long, with plenty of tunnels, chambers, and well-concealed entrances.
These creatures prefer to live alone, and they’re adaptable enough to survive in different habitats. The most common areas to find chipmunks include forests, meadows, fields, and parks with nut-producing trees.
A busy day in the short life of a chipmunk consists of several important activities: eating, drinking, storing food, burrowing, and escaping predators. Additionally, these fascinating creatures semi-hibernate in the winter and come together during mating season.
Now, you know the answer to the question: How long do chipmunks live? These cute and charismatic rodents have limited lifespans, but they surely know how to live and stuff their cheeks to the fullest!
Ben has a bachelor’s degree in construction engineering. When not constructing or remodeling X-Ray Rooms, Cardiovascular Labs, and Pharmacies, you can find him at home with wife and two daughters. Outside of family, He loves grilling and barbequing on his Big Green Egg and Blackstone Griddle, as well as working on projects around the house.
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