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Round-tailed Ground Squirrel and near Relatives

(Citellus tereticaudus)
He went out that morning into a world of plenty. The spring rains of the few days previous had sent millions of seeds to sprouting, and now the deserts were "coming green" again with a host of juicy annuals. Dainty wild flowers almost literally sprouted and bloomed in a day. The round-tailed chipmunk knew his rich feeding-time had come. Summer, autumn, and winter dry food had been good enough in their time, but they did not compare with the succulent green foods that came with the spring. He, like the Indian, would eat in the day of his plenty, and on this particular morning his provident nature seemed to urge him to special activity. As he foraged outward from the site of his hole, he seemed to have lost all sense of stomach capacity. His stomach seemed an unfillable cavern, and he stuffed and stuffed. To be sure, he felt a little clumsy as his sides began to swell, but what of that. Was it not the day of feasting and abandon? Consequences could now go to the four winds, at least for once.

Now, there are times when even a wild creature can eat too much and be too greedy for his own good. The round-tailed chipmunk found it out this very day and almost paid for his feast with his life.

The approach of a coyote who was foolishly nosing about had sent him on his heels toward one of the holes of the colony to which he belonged. He had purposely remained fairly close to home; for he was aware of the danger that accompanied distant excursions. His prowess as a runner had always been good and he now trusted his legs to take him to his hole in a hurry. But, alas, he had taken on too much "ballast." His distended stomach made it almost impossible for him to drag himself away. However, his sense of extreme danger spurred him on to unusual activity and he finally reached his hole. But now, but now, just when he thought himself about to safety, he found that though the nose and neck went down the hole made in the day of his leanness, his fat, overfilled, pendent belly would not come on in after him. And the coyote right behind ! He wiggled, he squeezed, he scratched and pawed and gave a whistling squeal, but that little round ball of a body could not be made to fit the small hole. Realizing his plight he now threw himself backward, and rushed to another hole. As luck would have it, this second hole was better suited to his need, and down he went, one last flop of his tail all the coyote saw of this fearstricken, round-tailed chipmunk.

photo of round-tailed ground squirrel in Joshua Tree National Park
The vernacular name, "round-tailed chipmunk," given to this animal on account of its small size, is a misnomer; the proper name is round-tailed ground squirrel. So wary are these animals that people often travel for days through the desert and never even suspect their presence. They are exceedingly shy creatures and scurry to their holes at the first approach of a stranger. Considerable patience and much sitting still is required if you wish to observe them. About all the average desert traveler ever sees of them is occasionally a little gray or brownish form scuttling down a hole. or once in a while an adventuresome individual in a mesquite tree harvesting blossoms. There is nothing prepossessing in the appearance of the round-tailed ground squirrels. The ear conchs are so narrow as to be mere rims, and this gives the head a sort of roundish, bald aspect. The tail is quite bare of hairs and the pelage is almost always coarse. Nevertheless, we must account them interesting little creatures because of the unique place they occupy among the small mammals of the arid regions of the extreme Southwest.

Of the several species inhabiting the desert region, the Death Valley ground squirrel has the distinction of occupying a region wholly below sea level in the lowest, hottest place on our continent, a habitat such as no other North American rodent can boast of. The Yuma round-tailed ground squirrel dwells in the lowlying, sandy region in the vicinity of the Colorado River in California, and the Imperial Valley north to the Salton Sea. The northwestern arm of the Colorado Desert, from the Salton Sea to the San Gorgonio Pass, is inhabited by the Palm Springs round-tailed ground squirrel. Each species thus occupies a very definite area; and neither trespasses on the ground occupied by the other.

The narrow, troughlike depression now known as the Colorado Desert of California was once a portion of the bed of the Gulf of Lower California. Then as now the Colorado River, brown with its heavy sediments of silt, was emptying its waters into the Gulf and pushing its delta across the narrow sea valley. In time the sediments were deposited in such quantities that the stream built up for itself a channel higher than the waters of the Gulf itself. Not only this was done, but the delta was built out sufificiently far to divide the narrow arm of the ocean into two parts, one part still opening into the ocean, and the other part forming an inland sea. This latter body of water is known to geologists as the Blake Sea, it having been named in honor of Professor William P. Blake who accompanied the expedition which first satisfactorily explored the region. The isolated waters of the inland sea soon began to dry up under the intense heat of the desert sun, and, as they receded from the mountain borders at the northwestern end of the sink, there came to exist there a large, flat, isolated area separated from the other adjacent regions by high mountains and the remaining waters of the great Blake Sea. The animals and plants which came to occupy this region, being cut off from others of their kind by natural barriers, in many cases finally developed characters peculiar to themselves, and in some instances these characters became sufficiently marked to form new species. The Palm Springs ground squirrel was one of these animals that have shown in marked manner the effects of this isolation. Although the ancient Blake Sea has dried up and the recently formed Salton Sea is the only physical feature restraining the general distribution of the ground squirrel over the sands of the entire Salton Sink, yet he clings to his ancient home and maintains his identity as a distinct species of the northwestern arm of the Colorado Desert.

Round-tailed Ground Squirrel
Prefers seeds, leaves, flowers, and other plant parts of grasses, forbs, and shrubs. ...

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