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Overview

Brief Summary

Description

Golden-mantled Ground Squirrels are familiar residents of open woodlands, brushy forest-edge habitats, dry margins of mountain meadows, and rocky slopes. They are quick to invade sunny, disturbed areas where pioneer plants provide good food resources. Because they have a stripe on the flank, they are sometimes mistaken for chipmunks, but the stripe does not continue onto the cheek as it does in Tamias species. Golden-mantled Ground Squirrels are solitary burrow-dwellers. They eat almost anything, including fungi, a variety of plants, fruits, and seeds, insects in all life-cycle stages, nestling birds and eggs, small mammals, and carrion. They hibernate from late summer through early spring, and like other hibernating mammals, put on fat reserves beforehand.

Links:
Mammal Species of the World
Click here for The American Society of Mammalogists species account
  • Original description: "Say, T., 1823.  in Thwaites, R.G., (ed.) Early Western Travels, 1748-1846 : A Series of Annotated Reprints of some of the best and rarest contemporary volumes of travel : descriptive of the Aborigines and Social and Economic Conditions in the Middle and Far West, during the Period of Early American Settlement, Cleveland, Ohio : A.H. Clark Co., Cleveland, Ohio, 1904-1907. Volume 16 (?Part III of James's Account of S. H. Long's Expedition, 1819-1820?), pg 38.

    (Accessible on-line at the Library of Congress - enter page 38)"
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Distribution

occurs (regularly, as a native taxon) in multiple nations

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National Distribution

Canada

Origin: Native

Regularity: Regularly occurring

Currently: Present

Confidence: Confident

Type of Residency: Year-round

United States

Origin: Native

Regularity: Regularly occurring

Currently: Present

Confidence: Confident

Type of Residency: Year-round

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Global Range: Western North America. Eastern British Columbia and western Alberta south through the western U.S. to California, Arizona, and New Mexico. Elevations of 1220-3965 m (Bartels and Thompson 1993).

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Range Description

This species is found in western North America, from eastern British Columbia and western Alberta, south through the western United States to California, Arizona, and New Mexico, at elevations of 1,220-3,965 m asl (Bartels and Thompson 1993). There are disjunct population segments in the southern portion of the range.
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Geographic Range

Spermophilus lateralis is found in Canada and the United States. It ranges from southeast British Colombia and southwest Alberta, into the western United States as far east as western Colorado and down to northwestern New Mexico and southern California.

(Bartels and Thompson, 1993; National Wildlife Federation, 2000)

Biogeographic Regions: nearctic (Native )

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Physical Description

Morphology

Physical Description

Spermophilus lateralis is a strikingly colored ground squirrel. This species has a golden-red mantle that extends from the head down over their shoulders. One white stripe, bordered by two black stripes, extends horizontally down the body, similar to chipmunks. Although chipmunks have a white stripe through their eyes, Spermophilus lateralis has a whitish fur eye ring and no facial striping. The back is gray, brownish or buff, and their undersides are whitish or yellowish-gray. The tail is brownish-black above, and reddish brown on the underside. Winter pelage is grayer and the mantle is duller. The species is sexually dimorphic, with males having a brighter red mantle as well as a significantly larger brain size.

These squirrels range in weight from 120 to 394 grams, and in length from 235 to 295 mm.

(Bartels and Thompson, 1993; Iwaniuk, 2001; National Wildlife Federation, year unknown)

Range mass: 120 to 394 g.

Range length: 235 to 295 mm.

Average basal metabolic rate: 0.967 W.

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Size

Length: 31 cm

Weight: 276 grams

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Size in North America

Length:
Average: 275 mm
Range: 245-295 mm

Weight:
Range: 175-350 g
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Ecology

Habitat

Palouse Grasslands Habitat

This taxon is found in the Palouse grasslands, among other North American ecoregions. The Palouse ecoregion extends over eastern Washington, northwestern Idaho and northeastern Oregon. Grasslands and savannas once covered extensive areas of the inter-mountain west, from southwest Canada into western Montana in the USA. Today, areas like the great Palouse prairie of eastern  are virtually eliminated as natural areas due to conversion to rangeland. The Palouse, formerly a vast expanse of native wheatgrasses (Agropyron spp), Idaho Fescue (Festuca idahoensis), and other grasses, has been mostly plowed and converted to wheat fields or is covered by Drooping Brome (Bromus tectorum) and other alien plant species.

the Palouse historically resembled the mixed-grass vegetation of the Central grasslands, except for the absence of short grasses. Such species as Bluebunch Wheatgrass (Elymus spicatus), Idaho Fescue (Festuca idahoensis) and Giant Wildrye (Elymus condensatus) and the associated species Lassen County Bluegrass (Poa limosa), Crested Hairgrass (Koeleria pyramidata), Bottlebrush Squirrel-tail (Sitanion hystrix), Needle-and-thread (Stipa comata) and Western Wheatgrass (Agropyron smithii) historically dominated the Palouse prairie grassland.

Representative mammals found in the Palouse grasslands include the Yellow-bellied Marmot (Marmota flaviventris), found burrowing in grasslands or beneath rocky scree; American Black Bear (Ursus americanus); American Pika (Ochotona princeps); Coast Mole (Scapanus orarius), who consumes chiefly earthworms and insects; Golden-mantled Ground Squirrel (Spermophilus lateralis); Gray Wolf (Canis lupus); Great Basin Pocket Mouse (Perognathus parvus); Northern River Otter (Lontra canadensis); the Near Threatened Washington Ground Squirrel (Spermophilus washingtoni), a taxon who prefers habitat with dense grass cover and deep soils; and the Northern Flying Squirrel (Glaucomys sabrinus), a mammal that can be either arboreal or fossorial.

There are not a large number of amphibians in this ecoregion. The species present are the Great Basin Spadefoot Toad (Spea intermontana), a fossorial toad that sometimes filches the burrows of small mammals; Long-toed Salamander (Ambystoma macrodactylum); Northern Leopard Frog (Glaucomys sabrinus), typically found near permanent water bodies or marsh; Columbia Spotted Frog (Rana luteiventris), usually found near permanent lotic water; Pacific Treefrog (Pseudacris regilla), who deposits eggs on submerged plant stems or the bottom of water bodies; Tiger Salamander (Ambystoma tigrinum), fossorial species found in burrows or under rocks; Woodhouse's Toad (Anaxyrus woodhousii), found in arid grasslands with deep friable soils; Western Toad (Anaxyrus boreas), who uses woody debris or submerged vegetation to protect its egg-masses.

There are a limited number of reptiles found in the Palouse grasslands, namely only: the Northern Alligator Lizard (Elgaria coerulea), often found in screes, rock outcrops as well as riparian vicinity; the Painted Turtle (Chrysemys picta), who prefers lentic freshwater habitat with a thick mud layer; Yellow-bellied Racer (Chrysemys picta); Ringneck Snake (Diadophis punctatus), often found under loose stones in this ecoregion; Pygmy Short-horned Lizard (Phrynosoma douglasii), a fossorial taxon often found in bunchgrass habitats; Side-blotched Lizard (Uta stansburiana), frequently found in sandy washes with scattered rocks; Southern Alligator Lizard (Elgaria multicarinata), an essentially terrestrial species that prefers riparian areas and other moist habitats; Pacific Pond Turtle (Emys marmorata), a species that usually overwinters in upland habitat; Western Rattlesnake (Crotalus viridis), who, when inactive, may hide under rocks or in animal burrows; Night Snake (Hypsiglena torquata); Western Skink (Plestiodon skiltonianus), who prefers grasslands with rocky areas; Western Terrestrial Garter Snake (Thamnophis elegans), found in rocky grasslands, especially near water; Rubber Boa (Charina bottae).

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Comments: Inhabits mountain slopes and foothills, alpine tundra, chaparral, open areas in pine, spruce, and fir forests, rocky outcroppings and slides, margins of mountain meadows, and rocky sagebrush country; campgrounds. Often in areas with abundant stumps, rocks, of fallen logs. When inactive or tending young, occupies burrows under rocks, stumps, logs, trees, bushes, or cabins, in rock crevices, or in banks or along washes.

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Habitat and Ecology

Habitat and Ecology
It inhabits mountain slopes and foothills, alpine tundra, chaparral, open areas in pine, spruce, and fir forests, rocky outcroppings and slides, margins of mountain meadows, and rocky sagebrush country; campgrounds. Often in areas with abundant stumps, rocks, or fallen logs. When inactive or tending young, it occupies burrows under rocks, stumps, logs, trees, bushes, or cabins, in rock crevices, or in banks or along washes.

Breeding occurs in the spring soon after females emerge from hibernation. Females are monoestrous. Gestation lasts 26-33 days. Litter size is 2-8, usually 4-6. Young emerge from burrow typically in July (to early August at highest elevations). Weaning occurs at a minimum age of four weeks.

Predators include snakes, foxes, weasels, and bears. This species may be an intermediate host for the Rocky Mountain spotted fever tick, Dermacentor andersoni. These squirrels are omnivorous. Diet includes seeds, fungus, leaves, flowers, fruits and roots. They also feed on arthropods and meat, including carrion. May store food in burrows in summer. Active mainly March-November at low elevations; season is shorter in high mountains and in areas with abundant snowfall.

Systems
  • Terrestrial
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Spermophilus lateralis is found from 1,220 m in the northern Sierra Nevada mountains of California, up to 3,965 m at Pike's Peak, Colorado. This species occurs in mixed coniferous forests of the Klamath, Cascade and Sierra Nevada ranges. Golden-mantled ground squirrels are found up to and above the timberline, provided that there is enough cover for them. Forest-edged meadows and rocky slopes can be occupied, as well as chaparral habitat in southern California. Spermophilus lateralis is abundant in campgrounds in where these squirrels enjoy human handouts.

(Bartels and Thompson, 1993)

Range elevation: 1,200 to 3,965 m.

Habitat Regions: temperate ; terrestrial

Terrestrial Biomes: chaparral ; forest ; scrub forest ; mountains

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Migration

Non-Migrant: Yes. At least some populations of this species do not make significant seasonal migrations. Juvenile dispersal is not considered a migration.

Locally Migrant: No. No populations of this species make local extended movements (generally less than 200 km) at particular times of the year (e.g., to breeding or wintering grounds, to hibernation sites).

Locally Migrant: No. No populations of this species make annual migrations of over 200 km.

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Trophic Strategy

Comments: Omnivorous. Feeds on seeds, fungus, leaves, flowers, fruits and roots. Also feeds on arthropods and meat, including carrion. In one study underground fungus comprised 65% of summer food and 90% of fall food. May store food in burrow in summer.

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Food Habits

Spermophilus lateralis is omnivorous. Individuals of this species dig up and consume underground fungi, locating it by smell. The nuts of Pinus are a dietary staple. They also eat other nuts, acorns, seeds, forbs, flowers, bulbs, fruit, shrubs and leafy greens. Animal matter consumed consists of adult and larval insects, birds and eggs, including mountain bluebirds (Sialia currocoides) and Oregon juncos (Junco oreganus), young microtus, voles, entrapped yellow-pine chipmunks (Tamias amoenus), lizards (Sceloporous gracilis), and carrion, including road-killed conspecifics.

(Bartels and Thompson, 1993)

Animal Foods: birds; mammals; reptiles; eggs; carrion ; insects

Plant Foods: leaves; roots and tubers; seeds, grains, and nuts; flowers

Other Foods: fungus

Primary Diet: omnivore

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Associations

Ecosystem Roles

Spermophilus lateralis is a primary consumer, and is therefore responsible for converting plant energy into a form useable by predators in the animal kingdom. There are many different types of predators that prey upon S. lateralis (listed under Predation). Golden-mantled ground squirrels probably affect predator populations and reproduction, depending upon how heavily any predator species relies on S. lateralis as a food source.

Spermophilus lateralis may also regulate populations of birds, lizards, and other small mammals upon which it preys.

Tunneling behavior can aerate the earth.

Competition between S. lateralis and other rodents can occur over food sources, which can therefore cause a negative effect on other rodent populations.

(Bartels and Thompson, 1993)

Ecosystem Impact: disperses seeds; soil aeration

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Predation

Golden-mantled ground squirrels are primary consumers, and are eaten by many different secondary consumers. Predators include various diurnal and nocturnal raptors, including red-tailed hawks and northern goshawks; mammals like coyotes, bobcats, skunks and various weasles; and snakes.

Predator avoidance behaviors include alarm calls accompanied by tail jerks. Spermophilus lateralis and yellow-bellied marmots respond to each others' alarm calls for predator warnings. Golden-mantled ground squirrels will ascend rocks and logs as lookout stations, occasionally sitting upright for a better view. They will also dive into the nearest cover or hole when a predator is spotted or an alarm call heard. Spermophilus lateralis keeps a series of burrow openings around their feeding areas to escape predation.

(Bartels and Thompson, 1993; Shriner, 1998)

Known Predators:

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Known predators

Spermophilus lateralis is prey of:
Serpentes
Mustela
Accipiter gentilis
Buteo jamaicensis
Mephitis mephitis
Lynx rufus
Canis latrans

This list may not be complete but is based on published studies.
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Known prey organisms

Spermophilus lateralis preys on:
fungi
Insecta
Reptilia
Aves
Mammalia
Certhia americana

This list may not be complete but is based on published studies.
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General Ecology

Populations usually are distributed evenly over good habitat. Predators include snakes, foxes, weasels, and bears. This species may be an intermediate host for the Rocky Mountain spotted fever tick, DERMACENTOR ANDERSONI.

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Life History and Behavior

Cyclicity

Comments: Active mainly March-November at low elevations; season is shorter in high mountains and in areas with abundant snowfall.

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Life Expectancy

Lifespan/Longevity

Lifespan has been recorded by Bartles and Thompson (1993) as an average of 7 years in the wild, and 5 years in captivity. This seems odd, as captive animals, not facing dangers of predation and food shortage, typically live longer than their wild counterparts. The difference in wild and captive lifespans reported by Bartles and Thompson may relfect differences in populations of S. lateralis, which vary greatly in habitat, hibernation pattern, and sociality. Also, it seems likely that their reported average for wild gound squirrels does not take into account juvenile mortality, much of which must remain unknown to observers as the young are hidden away in burrows.

Average lifespan

Status: wild:
7 years.

Average lifespan

Status: captivity:
5 years.

Range lifespan

Status: wild:
7 (high) years.

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Lifespan, longevity, and ageing

Maximum longevity: 10.4 years (captivity) Observations: In the wild, these animals appear to live up to 7 years (Bartels and Thompson 1993). One captive specimen lived 10.4 years (Richard Weigl 2005).
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Reproduction

Breeding occurs in the spring soon after females emerge from hibernation. Females are monoestrous. Gestation lasts 26-33 days. Litter size is 2-8, usually 4-6. Young emerge from burrow typically in July (to early August at highest elevations). Weaning occurs at minimum age of 4 weeks. Males do not take part in family life. A few may live up to 7 years.

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As in many ground squirrels, males are polygynous. After emergence from hibernation, they compete with each other to establish territorial boundaries. Male territories encompass the territories of several females. When females emerge from hibernation, they typically mate with the male on whose territory they are found.

Mating System: polygynous

Copulation begins after adults emerge from hibernation, from March to May. Males emerge from hibernation in breeding condition. They compete with one another during this time, establishing territories. Females follow shortly, 2 to 3 weeks after male emergence.

The gestation period is 26 to 33 days, with young being born from May to the beginning of September, depending on altitude. Most litters arrive from May to late June. Females have one to two litters per year. Litter size ranges from two to eight pups, averaging five. Litter size is larger at lower elevations.

Like many rodents, S. lateralis pups are born hairless except for tiny whiskers and hairs on their head. Their toes are fused together and their ears are closed. They are able to squeak and squirm around, but have little control over their body position. After a week, their fur has grown enough that their markings are visible. Vibrissae are also longer by this time, and they are able to right themselves. After two weeks, teeth erupt, ears open, toes separate and they utter their first adult sounds. Between days 20 to 30, upper incisors erupt, eyes open and grooming begins. They begin to eat solid food at around a month old, at which time their growth rate is rapidly accelerated. Pups leave the natal burrow when they are at least 25% of the adult body size, and are weaned sometime after they are at least 29 days old.

(Bartels and Thompson, 1993; Bihr and Smith, 1998; National Wildlife Federation, year unknown)

Breeding season: Breeding time varies with altitude, usually occurring immediately after hibernation.

Range number of offspring: 2 to 8.

Range gestation period: 26 to 33 days.

Range weaning age: 29 (low) days.

Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female): 12 (high) months.

Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male): 12 (high) months.

Key Reproductive Features: iteroparous ; seasonal breeding ; gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate); viviparous

Average birth mass: 6.26 g.

Average number of offspring: 5.12.

The mother cares for the offspring as they grow inside the natal burrow. Young are highly altricial, but develop rapidly. Nests are built of grasses, dried leaves and shredded bark in underground burrows that can extend up to 30m shallowly underground. Studies have shown that S. lateralis prefers to have burrow entrances under significantly larger than average rocks or stumps

Pups are altricial and require extensive maternal care, which declines when they are weaned between 24 to 32 days. Care for the pups is provided by the female only, and that declines 2 to 3 weeks after the pups leave the nest (when at about 25% of adult body size), after which the female becomes antagonistic towards her offspring. Females and males reach sexual maturity within the first year.

(Bartels and Thompson, 1993; Bihr and Smith, 1998; National Wildlife Federation, year unknown)

Parental Investment: altricial ; pre-fertilization (Provisioning, Protecting: Female); pre-hatching/birth (Provisioning: Female, Protecting: Female); pre-weaning/fledging (Provisioning: Female, Protecting: Female)

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Molecular Biology and Genetics

Molecular Biology

Statistics of barcoding coverage: Spermophilus lateralis

Barcode of Life Data Systems (BOLDS) Stats
Public Records: 0
Specimens with Barcodes: 5
Species With Barcodes: 1
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Conservation

Conservation Status

National NatureServe Conservation Status

Canada

Rounded National Status Rank: N5 - Secure

United States

Rounded National Status Rank: N5 - Secure

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NatureServe Conservation Status

Rounded Global Status Rank: G5 - Secure

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IUCN Red List Assessment


Red List Category
LC
Least Concern

Red List Criteria

Version
3.1

Year Assessed
2008

Assessor/s
Linzey, A.V. & NatureServe (Hammerson, G.)

Reviewer/s
Amori, G., Koprowski, J. & Roth, L. (Small Nonvolant Mammal Red List Authority)

Contributor/s

Justification
Listed as Least Concern because it is widespread, common in suitable habitat, and there are no major threats at present.

History
  • 1996
    Lower Risk/least concern
    (Baillie and Groombridge 1996)
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These squirrels are common in the areas where they occur.

US Federal List: no special status

CITES: no special status

IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: least concern

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Population

Population
Populations usually are distributed evenly over good habitat. This species is locally abundant.

Population Trend
Stable
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Threats

Major Threats
There are no major threats to this species.
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Management

Conservation Actions

Conservation Actions
This species is not of conservation concern and its range includes several protected areas.
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Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems

Benefits

Economic Uses

Comments: Sciurid mycophagy may play important role in forest ecology (Maser and Maser 1988). Sometimes may inhibit reforestation by eating conifer seeds and seedlings.

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Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

Spermophilus lateralis can have a negative impact on the timber industry. In the fall, coniferous seeds make up a large portion of their diet, and S. lateralis can harm reforestation efforts by eating newly sprouted conifer seeds. They have little impact on agriculture because of habitat selection.

Spermophilus lateralis is a vector for zoonotic diseases, and they are the main mammalian reservoir for Colorado tick fever, a non-lethal, tick-born viral disease. They are also vectors for the plague. Although campers enjoy feeding the squirrels, care should be taken not to get bitten or inhale dried fecal matter.

(Bartels and Thompson, 1993; Encyclopedia Britanica, online, 2001)

Negative Impacts: crop pest

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Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Golden-mantled ground squirrels have little positive economic importance to humans. They do however, provide amusement and enjoyment for many campers as they can become quite tame, living at campgrounds and taking food from eager campers hands. (Bartels and Thompson, 1993)

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Wikipedia

Golden-mantled ground squirrel


The golden-mantled ground squirrel (Callospermophilus lateralis) is a type of ground squirrel found in mountainous areas of western North America.

The golden-mantled ground squirrel is abundant throughout its range and is equally at home in a wide variety of forest habitats as well as rocky meadows, and even sagebrush flats.

Description[edit]

Side view, Bryce Canyon

A typical adult ranges from 23 to 30 centimetres (9.1–12 in) in length. The golden-mantled ground squirrel can be identified by its chipmunk-like stripes and coloration, but unlike chipmunks, it lacks any facial stripes. It is commonly found living in the same habitat as Uinta chipmunks.

The golden-mantled ground squirrel is similar to chipmunks in more than just its appearance. Although it is a traditional hibernator, building up its body fat so to survive the winter asleep, it is also known to store some food in its burrow, like the chipmunk, for consumption upon waking in the spring. Both the golden-mantled ground squirrel and the chipmunk have cheek pouches for carrying food. Cheek pouches allow them to transport food back to their nests and still run at full speed on all fours. Golden-mantled ground squirrels dig shallow burrows up to 30 metres (98 ft) in length with the openings hidden in a hollow log or under tree roots or a boulder. The female gives birth to a single litter of 4–6 young each summer.

It eats seeds, nuts, berries, insects, and underground fungi. It is preyed upon by hawks, jays, weasels, foxes, bobcats, and coyotes.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Linzey, A. V. & Hammerson, G. (2008). Spermophilus lateralis. In: IUCN 2008. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Retrieved 8 January 2009.
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Names and Taxonomy

Taxonomy

Comments: Recent molecular phylogenetic studies suggest that the traditionally recognized genera Marmota (marmots), Cynomys (prairie dogs), and Ammospermophilus (antelope ground squirrels) render Spermophilus paraphyletic, potentially suggesting that multiple generic-level lineages should be credited within Spermophilus (Helgen et al. 2009). As a result, ground squirrels formerly allocated to the genus Spermophilus (sensu Thorington and Hoffman, in Wilson and Reeder 2005) are now classified in 8 genera (Notocitellus, Otospermophilus, Callospermophilus, Ictidomys, Poliocitellus, Xerospermophilus, and Urocitellus). Spermophilus sensu stricto is restricted to Eurasia.

Callospermophilus saturatus formerly was included in this species.

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