Canku Ota


(Many Paths)


An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


January 13, 2001 - Issue 27



How the Chipmunk Got His Stripes


an Iroquois Legend


Long ago when animals could talk, a bear was walking along. Now it has always been said that bears think very highly of themselves. Since they are big and strong, they are certain that they are the most important of the animals.

As this bear went along turning over big logs with his paws to look for food to eat, he felt very sure of himself.

"There is nothing I cannot do," said this bear.

"Is that so?" said a small voice. Bear looked down. There was a little chipmunk looking up at Bear from its hole in the ground.

"Yes," Bear said, "that is true indeed." He reached out one huge paw and rolled over a big log. "Look at how easily I can do this. I am the strongest of all the animals. I can do anything. All the other animals fear me."

"Can you stop the sun from rising in the morning?" said the Chipmunk.

Bear thought for a moment. "I have never tried that," he said. "Yes, I am sure I could stop the sun from rising."

"You are sure?" said Chipmunk.

"I am sure," said Bear. "Tomorrow morning the sun will not rise. I, Bear, have said so." Bear sat down facing the east to wait. Behind him the sun set for the night and still he sat there.

The chipmunk went into its hole and curled up in its snug little nest, chuckling about how foolish Bear was. All through the night Bear sat. Finally the first birds started their songs and the east glowed with the light which comes before the sun.

"The sun will not rise today," said Bear. He stared hard at the glowing light. "The sun will not rise today."

However, the sun rose, just as it always had. Bear was very upset, but Chipmunk was delighted. He laughed and laughed.

"Sun is stronger than Bear," said the chipmunk, twittering with laughter. Chipmunk was so amused that he came out of his hole and began running around in circles, singing this song:

"The sun came up,
The sun came up.
Bear is angry,
But the sun came up."

While Bear sat there looking very unhappy, Chipmunk ran around and around, singing and laughing until he was so weak that he rolled over on his back.

Then, quicker than the leap of a fish from a stream, Bear shot out one big paw and pinned him to the ground. "Perhaps I cannot stop the sun from rising," said Bear, "but you will never see another sunrise."

"Oh, Bear," said the chipmunk. "oh, oh, oh, you are the strongest, you are the quickest, you are the best of all of the animals. I was only joking." But Bear did not move his paw.

"Oh, Bear," Chipmunk said, "you are right to kill me, I deserve to die. Just please let me say one last prayer to Creator before you eat me."

"Say your prayer quickly," said Bear. "Your time to walk the Sky Road has come!"

"Oh, Bear," said Chipmunk, "I would like to die. But you are pressing down on me so hard I cannot breathe. I can hardly squeak. I do not have enough breath to say a prayer. If you would just lift your paw a little, just a little bit, then I could breathe. And I could say my last prayer to the Maker of all, to the one who made great, wise, powerful Bear and the foolish, weak, little Chipmunk."

Bear lifted up his paw. He lifted it just a little bit. That little bit, though, was enough. Chipmunk squirmed free and ran for his hole as quickly as the blinking of an eye. Bear swung his paw at the little chipmunk as it darted away. He was not quick enough to catch him, but the very tips of his long claws scraped along Chipmunk's back leaving three pale scars.

To this day, all chipmunks wear those scars as a reminder to them of what happens when one animal makes fun of another.

The Eastern Chipmunk
Tamias striatus, Family Sciuridae
The Eastern Chipmunk gets its scientific name (Tamias striatus) from two of its most noticeable features. Tamias means "the treasurer," referring to the Chipmunk's ability to store large amounts of food in their pouched cheeks. One Chipmunk was found with 31 kernels of corn in its cheeks! Striatus means "striped", referring to the stripes on the backs of Eastern Chipmunks.

"Chipmunk" probably comes from the Ojibwe "acitamon," meaning "red squirrel").

The chipmunk is a member of the family Sciuridae (sciurids) which includes the marmots (groundhogs, woodchuck), prairie dogs, squirrels, and chipmunks.
Geographic Range:
The Eastern Chipmunk lives in most of the eastern United States including Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois, and Michigan. It also inhabits southeastern Canada.
Physical Characteristics
All chipmunks have pouched cheeks. The pouches are located in the sides of their mouths and are used to store food. When the pouches are full they can be as large as an entire chipmunk's head. Eastern chipmunks are larger than most chipmunks. They are reddish brown in color with 5 black stripes on their backs. These stripes are separated by brown, white, or gray fur stripes. They also have white and dark markings around their eyes. The belly is usually a yellowish brown or white. Their tails are reddish brown and furry, but not bushy like common squirrels. Like many rodents, chipmunks have 4 toes on their front feet and 5 toes on their back feet.
Food Habits
Chipmunks eat a wide variety of foods including nuts, acorns, seeds, mushrooms, fruits, berries, and corn. They also eat insects, bird eggs, and sometimes small vertebrates such as young mice.
Chipmunks have two breeding seasons. This is quite unusual among sciurids. The first season begins in February and lasts until April and the second begins in June and ends in August. They do not form monogamous pairs. Females are in estrus for 3-10 days. The gestation period is 31 days and the usual litter size is 4 to 5, although litters as large as 9 have been found. Young Eastern Chipmunks do not appear above ground for 6 weeks after they are born. Both male and female Eastern Chipmunks reach sexual maturity at about 1 year old.
Eastern Chipmunks usually live alone and defend small territories around their burrows. There is considerable competition during the mating season for estrus females, but even if a male outcompetes his comrades the female may reject him by biting him and chasing him out of her burrow. Although chipmunks are solitary animals, they have been seen gathering to "sing," or make noise in chorus. They also make a variety of other noises.

Many kinds of sciurids hibernate during the cold winter months. Eastern Chipmunks, however, do not hibernate continuously through the winter, nor do they "fatten up" before retreating to their burrows. They keep large stores of food in their burrows and build nests on top of this treasure. During the winter months they wake up periodically and snack on their stored nuts and seeds.
Eastern Chipmunks live in shallow burrows in the ground. They like areas near rocky crevices, decayed tree trunks, and fence corners. They do not like dense forests where no sunlight reaches the ground. Burrows are made by digging and carrying away the dirt in their pouched mouths. Unlike Prairie Dogs and some other sciurids, chipmunks do not leave the dirt in mounds near the entrances of their burrows. This makes it harder for predators to find the Chipmunks in their homes. These burrows can be up to thirty feet in length with several exits and tunnels. Chipmunks hide the exits with leaves and rocks. They may live in these burrows for several years.
Economic Importance for Humans
Positive: Chipmunks have played a small role in the fur trade. They eat insects and may help to control populations of some insect species. They play a role in the dispersion of plants and of mycorrhizal fungi.

Negative: Sciurids often forage for food in agricultural fields causing destruction of crops, but the Eastern Chipmunk is not present in large enough numbers to do significant damage.
Conservation Status: no special status
Eastern Chipmunks are not in danger unless their habitat is destroyed. The main threat to their survival is agriculture. Many sciurids are a nuisance to farmers who kill them to save their crops.
Other Comments
Although chipmunks are solitary and territorial, they are easily tamed by patient humans with food and can be "pleasing pets."


Common and Friendly by Jim Ferguson
There are 19 species of chipmunk in North America but the most common is the Eastern Chipmunk which inhabits the eastern part of the continent from James Bay in northern Ontario to the State of Georgia.


Chipmunks by Abby
Chipmunks are very interesting creatures. Did you know that a chipmunk can jump into its hole so its enemies that are chasing it will not find its tracks?


Chipmunks are members of the ground squirrel family (Sciuridae).




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