Five ways to tell apart a chipmunk and a ground squirrel

You see a little critter scurrying around the garden, its back striped dark brown and white.

A chipmunk? A ground squirrel?

The species often get confused, because they are about the same size --- 8-11 inches and 5-9 ounces --- and they both burrow. However, there are some key ways to tell these creatures apart.



The eastern chipmunk (Tamias striatus) has seven stripes on its body --- a single black stripe running down the middle of its back and three stripes on each side going black, white, black. The stripes do not extend onto the head. The thirteen-lined ground squirrel (Spermophilus tridecemlineatus) has just that --- 13 lines. It has seven dark stripes separated by six lighter ones, every other of which looks like dash marks or dots. The thirteen-lined ground squirrel's stripes extend onto the top of its head.


Eastern chipmunk, Photo by Magnus Manske, via Wikimedia Commons

13-lined ground squirrel

Thirteen-lined ground squirrel




Chipmunks have rounded, erect ears, whereas ground squirrels have short ears that do not even stick out above the head.


Chipmunks have fuzzy, bushy tails. They often run with their tails held high. The thirteen-lined ground squirrel has a long, streamlined tail that is usually low to the ground as it moves along.


Chipmunks are found in deciduous forests or shrublands naturally, although they also live in suburban and urban areas where there is abundant cover. The thirteen-lined ground squirrel is a grassland creature, natively found in the prairies of the central U.S. They have also adapted to urban and agricultural development.

Climbing ability

Chipmunks are great climbers, although they don't climb trees incredibly often. They can also scale some buildings.

chipmunk climbing a tree

Chipmunk caught climbing a tree

Thirteen-lined ground squirrels, however, don't climb at all.

Now that you know the difference between an eastern chipmunk and a thirteen-lined ground squirrel, do you think you can tell apart and osprey and a bald eagle? Click here to learn seven differences between these birds of prey.



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  1. Pete McManus on June 21, 2019 at 11:14 am

    When a new tenant arrived under the Bird-feeder to eat Sunflower Seeds, she/he permitted me to walk slowly within 5 feet while looking up repeatedly as the Beautifully Stripped Ground Squirral? or Exotic Stripped Chipmunk? kept eating. I think – by looking at the photos that it was a Ground Squirral. Pete McManus P. S. Deer, Rabbits, Ground Hogs, Foxes, Exotic Birds of many varities (Blue Birds, Cardinals, Blue Jays, Red Headed Wood Peckers, Finchs, Humming Birds, Red Winged Black Birds, ad infinitum, are at the feeders all day long!), visit dailey.

  2. Virginia Dare McGraw on January 8, 2019 at 1:58 pm

    Just saw Wild on Natgeo on Alaska where they show ground squirrels

  3. Dennis Gren on December 8, 2018 at 7:41 am

    what about Prairie dogs?

    • kiley on December 10, 2018 at 10:38 am

      We don’t have prairie dogs here, but there are actually five species of prairie dogs! You can read some interesting facts about them here:

  4. Kelly on October 14, 2018 at 12:34 pm

    Solved a friendly dispute. Thank you. P.S. I lost…hahaha

    • kiley on October 15, 2018 at 10:59 am

      Glad it helped, sorry you lost 🙂

  5. Leslie Boston on September 17, 2018 at 2:38 pm

    Thank you.

  6. Sher on August 17, 2018 at 3:35 pm

    This was very helpful and interesting. Thanks!

    • Gerry Belk on June 22, 2019 at 2:11 pm

      Caught a chipmunk today that had a long pointed tail like a rat.But it had the markings of typical chipmunk ?

      • kiley on June 22, 2019 at 2:17 pm

        Hmmm… odd!