Curious Nature: High Rockies home to many varieties of ground squirrel (column) – Colorado News

Curious Nature: High Rockies home to many varieties of ground squirrel (column) – Colorado News

If you’ve attempted a picnic in Colorado, then you’ve probably learned it’s hard to find a spot where your picnic won’t be crashed by some of our local wildlife. These barbecue bandits emerge quietly and cautiously from under a pile of rocks or a small hole in the ground, slowly creeping over until they’re boldly sniffing around your shoes for spilled chips and cracker crumbs. Small, fluffy and charming, the ground squirrel family certainly has begging for food down to an art.

Despite living underground, these cookout crashers are part of an impressive family tree. Ground squirrels belong to a large subfamily within the squirrel family, but there are just a few we commonly run into in the high Rockies, and their antics are well known to long-term residents.

Sometimes mistaken as a wayward beaver high in the mountains, the yellow-bellied marmot is the largest member of the ground squirrel family living in the Rockies. When it comes to family, marmots are true experts. Living in colonies of up to 20 individuals, these large rodents have one another’s backs, with one keeping watch while the rest of the colony is gathering food or sunbathing. One of the most commonly recognized behaviors of the marmot is its distinct alarm call, a telltale whistle that has earned the species its nickname of “whistle pig.”

If you’ve grilled out at Sylvan Lake or walked the Beaver Creek Rodeo grounds, then you may have noticed the small, tan heads of Wyoming ground squirrels, often mistaken for prairie dogs, peeking out of an area peppered with holes. Wyoming ground squirrels are simple animals with a complex social system. With many predators such as snakes, coyotes, foxes and…

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