Spotted Ground Squirrel, Xerospermophilus spilosoma
The spotted ground squirrel (Xerospermophilus spilosoma) is native to west and central United States and south and central Mexico. Its United States range includes Nebraska, South Dakota, western Texas, western Kansas, eastern Arizona and most of New Mexico. Its preferred habitat includes deep, sandy soil with limited vegetation. It can be found in burrows within sand hills, and may occupy abandoned prairie dog burrows. The burrows can also be found on mesas with short grass, or along riverbanks.
The spotted ground squirrel is one of the smallest ground squirrels in the northern hemisphere. The underbelly of this species is white, and it bares lines of white stripes on its back. The rest of the fur can be black, white, grey, or brown in color. It is thought that these colorings vary depending upon the habitat of each population. It will molt its fur twice a year. The skull bares auditory bullae that are larger than that of other squirrels.
The spotted ground squirrel spends the majority of its above ground time foraging and eating. It can also be seen grooming, sunbathing, resting, mating, and warning members of its group of predators. It has seven types of warning behaviors used either for territorial disputes, or for alerting others of danger. The mating season occurs between the months of April to August, and during this period, males can be seen darting in and out of the burrows, in what is thought to be a frantic courtship ritual.
The diet of the spotted ground squirrel consists mainly of seeds and green vegetation. During the spring, green shoots of grass are consumed, while flowers and other green plants are reserved for summer. It has been known to eat grasshopper larvae as well. The spotted ground squirrel appears on the IUCN Red List with a conservation status of “Least Concern”.
Image Caption: Spotted ground squirrels (Spermophilus spilosoma). Credit: NPS/Wikipedia