Meet the Critters! The Thirteen-lined Ground Squirrel

Continuing our series “Meet the Critters,” this week, we’d like to introduce you to the thirteen-lined ground squirrel.  The thirteen-lined ground squirrel is related to prairie dogs, marmots, and chipmunks, and is common throughout the Great Plains.  This small rodent grows to about 11 inches in length (including the tail) and sports a handsome striped coat.  There really are 13 stripes, 7 dark stripes separated by 6 lighter ones.  Often, they can be spotted “standing up” almost like a prairie dog in order to examine their surroundings.


Thirteen-lined ground squirrels are diurnal, meaning they are active throughout the day.  They spend a significant amount of their time underground, in a complex system of burrows, which can extend 15-20 feet underground, with many branching and side tunnels.  They venture out to feed on grasses, seeds, and insects such as worms and grasshoppers.  There are reports from Texas of thirteen-lined ground squirrels even eating mice and small chickens.  The thirteen-lined ground squirrel is on the menu for many predators; especially hawks, badgers, weasels, foxes, coyotes, bull snakes, and black snakes.

This species undergoes a long period of hibernation, generally from October to April.  During hibernation, the squirrel’s respiration drops from between 100 and 200 breaths per minute to one breath about every five minutes.  Their body temperature drops to just above freezing.  When they emerge in spring, an individual squirrel may have lost up to one third of its body weight!

Thirteen-lined ground squirrels are diurnal, meaning they are active throughout the day.  They spend a significant amount of their time underground, in a complex system of burrows, which can extend 15-20 feet underground, with many branching and side tunnels.  They venture out to feed on grasses, seeds, and insects such as worms and grasshoppers.  There are reports from Texas of thirteen-lined ground squirrels even eating mice and small chickens.  The thirteen-lined ground squirrel is on the menu for many predators; especially hawks, badgers, weasels, foxes, coyotes, bull snakes, and black snakes.

This species undergoes a long period of hibernation, generally from October to April.  During hibernation, the squirrel’s respiration drops from between 100 and 200 breaths per minute to one breath about every five minutes.  Their body temperature drops to just above freezing.  When they emerge in spring, an individual squirrel may have lost up to one third of its body weight!

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About Jean Aycock

Jean Aycock is an Educator at Ft. Hays State University’s Kansas Wetlands Education Center (KWEC) at Cheyenne Bottoms. Jean received a Bachelor of Science degree in Forestry - Wildlife Management from Mississippi State University, and a Master of Science degree in Wildlife Ecology from the University of Arkansas-Monticello, studying shorebird migration. Jean is a native of southeast Missouri, and an avid birder, hiker, and crafter.

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