How to Care for
Your New Richardson's Ground Squirrels
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Enjoying a tasty cabbage leaf snack.
Origin: Richardson's ground squirrels run rampant in Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Minnesota. North Dakota is known as the "flicker-tail state." Flicker-tail is a descriptive name for these varmints with their ceaselessly waggling tails. They are a severe pest in alfalfa fields -- reducing yields by about a fourth. Not so much by eating alfalfa, but with their constant burrowing. Farmers are quite happy to export these guys.
Personality: Richardson's ground squirrels are pleasant enough. In the wild, females stay mostly in their burrows while the males spread out looking for interesting burrows. In captivity, both sexes are mellow. In the wild, males will argue over territories.
Longevity: Females live 4 to 6 years in the wild. Males live fewer years in the wild because predators catch them while they're out roaming around. Predators include weasels, badgers, hawks, falcons, and rattlesnakes. You should not have this problem at home.
Hibernation: Richardson's ground squirrels squirrel away food in their burrows and hibernate seven to nine months. I have no clue what effect non-hibernation has on them. In the wild, they have no choice. In your home, they probably will not hibernate -- plenty of food and no below zero weather to force hibernation. Lack of hibernation could affect their longevity.
Cage: Look for a cage with a great big front door. Small doors make it really hard to take them out of their cage. You'll find them friendliest if you take them out of their cage and interact with them daily. Add a water bottle to your cage. Use your extra food tray to offer different foods. Give them special treats by hand.
Natural Habitat: Richardson's ground squirrels occupy the same niche as our local chipmunks. They are considered a serious crop pest. I should have included poisons and rifles in the list of threats. Farmers strongly dislike these cute little varmints.
Foods: They'll eat any of the mouse, rat, hamster, gerbil, cockatiel, and parrot seed mixes or pellets. They'll also eat nearly any breakfast cereal you care to offer them. In the wild, they eat seeds, nuts, grains, grasses, insects, and carrion. Carrion can be hard to find, so plan ahead. Plus, they'll eat most of the stuff that grows in your garden. Mine were not excited about timothy hay, but eventually ate it. Give them fresh garden greens as a treat -- not as a main menu.
Diurnal: Richardson's ground squirrels take frequent short naps. However, they are extremely active during the day -- totally different from hamsters. Since they hibernate, they might find an out of the way place to stash their extra food. If you have more than one in your cage, they'll probably discover and eat each other's cache.
Last Words: You may never breed your Richardson's ground squirrels. The females have only one litter per year, some six to eight pups. But they are estrous for only two to three hours during each year. That's one reason all those males spread out instead of staying home. LA
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