Traverse City Record-Eagle

Northern Living

April 14, 2013

Ed Hungness: Old friend resurfacing is sign of spring

Last fall I had a reoccurring encounter with a chipmunk who took great delight in visiting our garage on sunny afternoons.

The garage door is usually closed to prevent a variety of critters from setting up housekeeping inside. During leaf-raking season, the door is occasionally left open for easy access to the refrigerator and the chilled beverages stored within. Raking is strenuous physical activity and requires frequent hydration.

Once inside the garage, the fur-bearing guest is eventually lured into exploring the live-trap, baited with his all-time favorite entree, sunflower seeds. In the process, Mr. Chipmunk would spring the trap and then patiently await my discovery of his predicament.

I always took pity on the victim, carried the trap outdoors, and released the prisoner. With cheeks stuffed full, he would make a beeline for the entrance to his burrow.

The chipmunk soon learned that this human was not a threat to his well-being and frequently visited the trap multiple times during the same day. With winter approaching, less and less was seen of my friend. One day he was gone, hopefully holed up in his warm burrow, well stocked with acorns, nuts and sunflower seeds.

Over the winter, my little buddy came to mind frequently and I wondered how he was getting along in the underground nest. Curiosity got the best of me, so I did a bit of research concerning the life of a chipmunk.

Chipmunks live in underground burrows, which can be more than 10 feet in length, usually with two entrances. They do hibernate in winter but do not sleep through the entire season like some North Country mammals.

While hibernating, a chipmunk’s body temperature may drop from 94 to 40 degrees and their heart rate slows from a normal 350 beats per minute to perhaps four. They wake up every few days from their nap, raise their body temperature and enjoy a meal of stored food before going back to sleep.

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