Ground Squirrel

Richardson’s ground squirrel, or the flickertail, is a North American ground squirrel in the genus Urocitellus. Like a number of other ground squirrels, they are sometimes called “gophers”.

Native to the short grass prairies, Richardson’s ground squirrel is found mainly in the northern states of the United States, such as North Dakota, and in southern Canada, such as southern Alberta and southern Saskatchewan. The range of this animal expanded as forests were cleared to create farm land. They are not simply restricted to prairie; sometimes adapting to suburban environments, causing them to be seen as pests because of the burrows they dig. It is not unusual to find squirrels digging tunnels under the sidewalks and patios of urban homes.

Typical adults are about 30 cm long. Weights vary greatly with time of year and with location: at emergence from hibernation the squirrels weigh between 200 and 400 grams, but by the time they hibernate again this may have risen to nearly 750 g. Males are slightly larger and heavier than females on average. They are dark brown on the upper side and tan underneath. The tail is shorter and less bushy than in other ground squirrels, and the external ears are so short as to look more like holes in the animal’s head. Behavior is more like that of a prairie dog than a typical ground squirrel. The tail is constantly trembling, so the animal is sometimes called the “flickertail”.

Richardson’s ground squirrels appear to live communally, but they organize their social structure around female kinship.