Chipmunks cannot truly hibernate. Instead, they can enter a hibernation-like state of suspended activity called torpor. During torpor, chipmunk’s body temperatures and heartbeats decrease and they remain motionless to preserve energy. Torpor is not considered true hibernation, however, because they need to wake from torpor every few days to eat.
As you’ve no doubt noticed, chipmunks are also rather energetic little creatures. They burn energy very quickly, which means they need to eat just as quickly--and frequently. Even with the help of torpor, these small mammals have to get rather… creative… to keep themselves alive during winter. Here’s how they do that, and how it might affect you:
How do chipmunks prepare for winter?
First and foremost, chipmunks survive winter by preparing for winter. Like squirrels, they get started stockpiling food and fattening up early. As soon as the weather starts to turn, they begin collecting their favorite foods in hidden caches. Chipmunks have large, expandable pouches inside their cheeks. They use these pouches to transport large quantities of nuts, seeds, twigs, and other preservable foods at once. They deposit this food in several different “scatter hordes” located throughout their home territory.
Chipmunks have to be very careful about where they gather and hide their food. Squirrels and other foraging mammals spend fall desperately competing for resources. The mammals will frequently enter a rival’s territory to scavenge for food or even steal from hordes. In fact, chipmunks create multiple, scattered caches precisely so they won’t lose all their food in case a rival plunders one of their hordes. Some even create fake hordes to trick throw rivals off of their trail!
What do they do during winter?
After they create their hordes, chipmunks spend all winter relying on them. Chipmunks spend most of winter hunkered down in their nests. They build these nests into hollow logs, trees, or beneath cover like rocks or porches. They’re also capable diggers and can construct 10 to 30-foot, multi-chamber tunnel systems before the ground freezes. Mammals are highly vulnerable during torpor, so they need their dens to be as hidden as possible. Many build their burrows near buildings.
Chipmunks have a “home territory” of about ½ to ¼ acre, centered around their den. They create their caches anywhere inside this territory, though they’ll store more food closer to home. During the coldest times of winter, they enter torpor inside their dens. They’ll remain inactive for as long as possible or until temperatures rise. When they’re too hungry to go on resting, they’ll emerge and retrieve food from one of their caches. Chipmunks eat a lot in a single sitting during winter in order to fatten up as much as possible. The less they have to leave their dens, the better.
How could they affect you this fall and winter?
Chipmunks behavior won’t seem to change much in fall, though you may see them more frequently. The small mammals go into overdrive collecting food as soon as the temperature shifts. You might see chipmunks charging around your yard, fighting with each other, or even attempting to crawl inside downspouts. They aren’t aggressive and will only bite if they feel threatened, but they could potentially transmit diseases. Never attempt to corner or capture a chipmunk yourself; leave them alone and they’ll leave you alone.
Chipmunks pose a more direct threat to your plants and home, but even that threat isn’t particularly significant. Chipmunks are largely wandering opportunistic scavengers. They’re looking for food that’s easy to find, collect, and save. They subsist primarily on fallen nuts, seeds, fruits, and other vegetation. In some cases, they may eat ornamental plants or garden vegetables. The most likely way chipmunks could affect you is by getting stuck in your home, window well, or downspout.
What can you do about chipmunks this fall?
Chipmunks are looking for plentiful, easy to collect food sources. The best way to keep them away is to make sure they can’t find those food sources near you. Rake up and dispose of leaves frequently. Pick up fallen fruit, nuts, and seeds as often as you can. Don’t let birdseed scatter on the ground. Consider mowing your lawn right up until the snow falls. Trim down bushes and shrubs, and reduce cover chipmunks could hide in wherever possible.
Chipmunks build their burrows near yards where they feel safe. They’ll look for openings under decks, porches, sheds, fences, and foundations. Look for any likely openings and seal them up or fence them off. Remember, they're excellent diggers, so you’ll have to fence underground, too. Make sure you store garbage in sealed containers whenever you have to keep it outside or in your garage. Consider keeping your garage door closed whenever you aren’t actively using it.
Winter can be hard on chipmunks, but we don’t think you need to feel too bad for the scrappy little mammals. After all, year after year, chipmunks persist. No matter how cold or barren this winter becomes, we get the feeling the little scavengers around you will be just fine.
Even if you feel for chipmunks this fall, you don’t have to let them run rampant around your home. If you’re dealing with a chipmunk problem, get in touch with Varment Guard any time. We can safely, quickly, and humanely remove chipmunks from your property. We’ll even make sure they don’t want to come back while we’re at it.