Sunday, June 10, 2007

Thirteen-lined Ground Squirrel

Common name: Thirteen-lined Ground Squirrel
Scientific name: Spermophilus tridecemlineatus
Often mistaken for: Chipmunks, Gophers
Size: 6.75-12 in (17-30 cm); 3.8-9.5 oz (110-270 g)
Habitat: shortgrass prairie, fields, shrublands
Range: central Alberta to northern New Mexico, southern Texas, and Indiana
Photo courtesy: M. D. Carleton


Anonymous said...

I have been raising an orphan now for about two weeks. He is about 5inches long now and has not bitten however I wanted to know if they get aggressive with age and if I do let him go will he survive because he is pretty spoiled.

Squirrelman said...

Accidentally deleted, now recovered comment:

I have one that we raised from a pup this spring (cat caught it and brought it in a few weeks before it's eyes opened). He was about 19 grams when we got him.

Handle it often and gently (minimum several times a day, IMO). Feed it while you hold it. Mine is most likely to bite when he is running around on the ground and feeling insecure. Startling him by trying to pick him up will usually get me bitten.

When he bites he usually curls around the fingers and bites and kicks to scratch. When he does this it is very important to not jerk the hand back, as this will tend to fling the animal across the room. Either shake the hand very gently or just grit your teeth and hold still. He'll drop off in a moment and go back to foraging. If you are very careful you can move him (such as into a box that can be closed and placed in the cage) while he's busy attacking, but he'll drop off within a couple of seconds, so don't dangle the poor animal over the floor.

Hard bites on the fingertip usually bleed a bit, and if you aren't expecting them it can turn you off of playing with the animal. If you are considerate of the animals nature and accept that bites are a result of your mistakes in handling, they really don't hurt very much. The surprise and abruptness of attack is usually the worst part.

Women and children or anyone with soft or sensitive skin might want to consider wearing close fitting gloves while handling the squirrel, just as a precaution. Good quality pigskin gloves would be appropriate as they are thin but tough.

Young squirrels like to play chase and will wrestle with your hand. To do this they will gently bite your skin to hang on while they playfully scrabble at your fingers. This can be done barehanded, but is really more comfortable with light gloves. They'll never draw blood this way, but may leave red scratches.

My squirrel is now gaining weight very quickly as fall approaches. He has also become much more protective about his cage. Often he will growl and bang on the cage wires when we approach. When he is growling, DO NOT try to put your hand in the cage. This may seem obvious, but I tried it just to make sure he was being territorial. He was, and he wasn't happy about the invasion.

I'm not sure whether his new aggressive behavior is related to his preparation hibernation. He may just be defending his home so he'll have a place to sleep. He is still happy to come out when he's in a good mood and doesn't seem particularly prone to biting or anything.

He's also digging a lot more, so I suspect that he is just in a seasonal behavior mode.

Don't let him go in the wild, he won't survive. He won't have the survival skills and will likely be pushed out by the local squirrels.

If you can't keep him, call around to some pet stores and see if any of them want to take him on, and if not try craigs list.

If you do want to keep him, make a cage with a deep and wide bottom so he has room to burrow. I'd suggest a cage at least 1x1x3 feet. Mine is about 2x1 and 4 feet tall with multiple platforms for him to climb. This is not the best shape.

Note that ground squirrels are not noted for the climbing prowess. He can scale the wire up, but does not have the ankle joints to allow him to go back down face first. Usually he turns around and jumps into the bedding. He is surprisingly good at jumping and does seem to enjoy climbing around on things. It is obvious that he very much enjoys burrowing though.

A good cage would be 2 feet tall, 1.5 feet wide and 5 feet long. Teh lower foot should be sealed glass or acrylic and filled either with bedding or possibly with dirt (solarized subsoil would be good). The upper part can have various platforms, branches, ropes and tubes where the animal can play.

Ground squirrels seem to be very habitual about the routes they take when foraging. The cage should allow the squirrel to run all the way around the perimeter of the cage, with several branching paths for variety.

Also include a movable partition that allows you to trap the squirrel on one side of the cage while you clean or maintain the other side. This saves the stress of leaving him in another cage while you clean. You could also provide two cages with a removable tunnel between them.

I also recommend keeping a box that you can drop over the squirrel when he gets loose. As I mentioned earlier, if he's out exploring the room and doesn't want to go back, he may bite if you try to pick him up. However, trapping him under a 1x2 foot or so box is very easy. You can then slide a thin board under the box and carry him back to the cage, but you still have to get him in.

Arrange the top of the cage so you have a kind of trap door that you can open and place the box over so the squirrel can return to the cage on his own.

Posted by Dave K to Squirrel Awareness at September 18, 2008 5:16 PM

Squirrelman said...

Accidentally deleted, now recovered comment:

I wrote previously with some tridecemlineatus advice. I noted that my little lardball of a squirrel had gotten rather agressive as he has gotten older and has taken to biting me.

Turns out he's just playing. I put on some long-cuffed welding gloves and reached into the cage to mess with him, and he loved it. At first I wasn't sure if he was attacking or playing, but it was clear after a few moments that he was loving the contact and was enjoying getting rubbed as well as the rough play.

It's great fun, more fun than before really. Ground squirrels seem to be pretty rugged little critters and he likes to pounce and headbutt, and to be flipped over on his back and rubbed.

Posted by Codesuidae to Squirrel Awareness at September 26, 2008 6:43 PM

Stephanie said...

Hi there. I have a 13 lined ground squirrel that I found in the road after a car had passed over it and probably tossed it up into the bottom of the car as it passed over and then back onto the road. When I first saw it, it was flopping on the road. I went back and had to wait for cars to pass, fortunately none ran over it. When I got it, it was very still, bleeding slightly from the nose. It was alive and coughing and sneezing a little. It lay on my leg during my 15 minute drive home, and when I parked the car to wait for my daughter to get out of school it woke up, and has been doing pretty well since. The only thing is, I thought it had a broken back because its back was hunched and it wasn't moving its back legs. In the 7 hours I've had him, he has been walking well, but then will have trouble again and seem "drunk". I am wondering if he has brain damage. He loves to snuggle against my skin and is very calm. I have him in a cat carrier with grass and a piece of cloth. There is a shallow lid with water and another one with some bird food and a few pieces of corn chex. I am not sure what else to do for him right now. I think I will go find a hamster cage and put potting soil in the bottom and figure out some other things for the upper part to keep him busy, such as a branch like you put in a bird cage, and some other toys. Does he need grass? What should I feed him? What about access to water? If you can email me I'd greatly appreciate it. Thank you.

Anonymous said...


I have a general question about the 13 lined ground squirrel. We had moles in our yard pretty badly at the beginning of spring. I later noticed that we had no moles, but had acquired one of these beautiful little creatures who hangs out under my hanging bird feeders. Do the squirrels take over the mole tunnels and run them off? I can't find anything about this on the internet yet, so was hoping you could help. Great site, by the way. Please e-mail comments back to me at Thanks in advance.

sro said...

I live in southeast Texas. This is my first attempt in raising an orphaned squirrel. Rocky is about 1 yr., 3 mos. old. She is showing signs of agression.

I've noticed she grunts at me when approaching her cage. And for the past week when transfering her from indoor to outdoor cage , she climbs on my shoulder and tries to pull out my hair. And when I try to discourage her, she scratches. I'm beginning to fear her.

Can she survive if I release her? What do I do?

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