Mojave Ground Squirrel, Xerospermophilus mohavensis

The Mojave ground squirrel (Xerospermophilus mohavensis) is native only to the Mojave Desert in California. Frank Stephens discovered this squirrel in 1886. Its range includes areas of Inyo, Los Angeles, San Bernardino, and Kern counties. It can be found in Joshua tree woodlands, saltbush scrub, Mojave mixed woody scrub, and saltbush scrub.

The preferred habitat of the Mojave ground squirrel contains abundant forage like spiny hopsage and winterfat, which allows the squirrels to live through harsh desert conditions. The populations that survive through these conditions may serve as essential areas for populations to branch out during years when rainfall is abundant, because the squirrels will reproduce successfully during these times. This process makes it difficult to know whether the Mojave ground squirrel is still present because of local die offs that continue until the next rainy period.

The Mojave ground squirrel can reach an average body length of almost nine inches including the tail. The vocalization of this species consist of high-pitched squeaks that young squirrel emit when emerging from the burrow, or when individuals are startled. This noise can be confused with the call of the horned lark.

Towards the end of July, the Mojave ground squirrel will enter a state of hibernation. However, in years of drought, the squirrels may go into hibernation as early as April. When litters are born after an early hibernation, they typically do not survive. The mating season occurs in March, after both males and females emerge from hibernation in February. After a pregnancy of about four weeks, litters of up to six pups are born. These young will emerge from the burrow from late May to June.

The common predators of the Mojave ground squirrel include snakes, badgers, coyotes, hawks, and falcons. This squirrel is listed on the California Endangered Species Act as an endangered species, and appears on the IUCN Red List with a conservation status of “Vulnerable”.

Image Caption: Mohave ground squirrel. Credit: NPS/Wikipedia