The Belding’s ground squirrel is by no means endangered, but you don’t see them as often as many of the other squirrels and chipmunks of the Sierra Nevada. One reason: they like terrain almost as high as the friendly marmots, greater than 6,500 feet.
They are of unremarkable size for a squirrel and spend their time safely on the ground (no tree climbing and hiker tormenting for them). They prefer open areas where predators have little chance of sneaking up on them. Another reason you may not see one is that they like areas with grass just tall enough so they can duck and hide, but not so tall that they can’t see you well before you see them.
They eat mostly plants, nuts, grain, roots—you get the idea—although they will on occasion eat bugs.
They do not store their food, so their sole job during the summer months is to get as fat as possible. (I, on the other hand, do that in the winter.) Once they have the required stored energy they hibernate for several months. When they begin depends on the elevation. Males usually hit the sack first, followed by females. In subalpine elevations the long naps begin as late as September and end as early as February. At higher altitudes they can be underground between July and April!
If you decide to be reincarnated as an animal you might want to consider something other than a male Belding’s ground squirrel. Female Belding’s ground squirrels are, shall we say, “in the mood” for less than five HOURS per YEAR. When the time is right the competition is pretty brutal.
All this is interesting, but the real question is: who is this Belding fellow and how come he gets his own species of ground squirrel?
Lyman Belding was born in 1829 in Massachusetts. After moving west he spent much of his youth on whaling ships in the Pacific. In middle age he acquired a book about birds and he was hooked, eventually moving to Stockton, California and becoming something of an authority on the birds of California. In 1885, during a trip to the Sierra Nevada, he somehow came into possession of a as-yet-unnamed squirrel carcass. He sent it to Clinton Hart Merriam, a noted zoologists, who named it after Belding.
Belding’s ground squirrel has a step-sibling: the Belding’s yellowthroat, also name for Lyman Belding.
Good hiking, Ray