Sunday, August 11, 2013

Mammal Nursery Filled with 13-lined Ground Squirrels

It was a very exciting day when 12 infant thirteen-lined ground squirrels were admitted to the Wildlife In Need Center back in June. Twelve tiny squirrels, still with their eyes closed, formed a squirming ball under a blanket. Each ground squirrel was hand-fed formula six times a day, a lengthy but enjoyable task. Over time, the squirrels’ eyes began to open and they began moving around their container, exploring and playing. Soon, more and more thirteen-lined ground squirrels started coming into WINC, adding up to twenty-five at one point.
The thirteen-lined ground squirrel, also known as the striped gopher, is a small rodent with 13 alternating brown and white stripes running down its back. Within the brown stripes are rows of white dots, giving this ground squirrel a very interesting and beautiful pattern. The stripes are good camouflage in short grass prairie settings. Adult thirteen-lined ground squirrels can range from 7 to 11 inches in length. They are active during the day, especially in warm weather. They are solitary or slightly colonial, grouping together in suitable habitats. Ground squirrels live in burrows 1-2 feet underground and 15-20 feet long. Scattered short burrows are also dug and used for hiding. An interesting thing about the thirteen-lined ground squirrel is the high-pitched trill they make when threatened or communicating with others. Those not accustomed to the sound may mistake it for a bird’s call. The Latin name for the thirteen-lined ground squirrel is Spermophilus tridecemlineatus, tridecemlineatus meaning “thirteen lines” and Spermophilus meaning “seed lover”. At WINC, our ground squirrels are given fruits, veggies, rodent blocks, peanuts, sunflower seeds, and a mix of other seeds. In the wild, they will also caterpillars, grasshoppers and

crickets. This squirrel can be harmful to gardeners by digging burrows and eating the growing veggies, but it can also be beneficial by eating the seeds of weeds and consuming harmful insects.
The rehabilitation process for thirteen-lined ground squirrels starts with them being formula fed with a syringe while they are eyes-closed infants. They are offered solid food once their eyes open, but are continued to be syringe fed until fully weaned onto solid foods. When they are independent and eating lots of solid food, they are moved to outdoor caging. After about 2 weeks outside getting exercise and acclimated to the weather, the ground squirrels can be released.

                When our original 12 squirrels were big enough, we moved them to a large aquarium lined with dirt to mimic their natural habitat. They enjoyed digging in the dirt and huddled in cardboard tubes. These squirrels which were once tiny, blind babies are now much bigger and much more active, running around and playing with each other, and occasionally peeking out and making their trill call. After being in the dirt tank for a couple of weeks, this group was moved to an outdoor enclosure where they have more room to explore, and the dirt tank was inhabited by the 11 remaining ground squirrels. These 11 stayed inside for another week, then were moved outside next to the original 12. Now the 3 smallest ground squirrels are in the dirt tank and will be moved outside when they are 8-10 weeks old. All ground squirrels should be released around 12 weeks of age, after at least 2 weeks of acclimation to the outdoors. We have very much enjoyed seeing these animals grow and change and are excited for release!

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