Chipmunks can be delightful creatures to watch, whether in your backyard or on a television or movie screen. There are many different types of chipmunks, but all can be seen gathering food and scurrying around, sometimes in areas shared with humans. This interaction between chipmunks and humans has lead to many depictions of these cute animals, but when real-life chipmunks and people meet, problems can occur.
Chipmunks are members of the squirrel family of mammals. There are 25 chipmunk species. Chipmunks range from gray to red-brown and have stripes that alternate in light and dark colors. The smallest species of chipmunk is only 7 inches long and weighs 1 oz., while the largest is 11 inches long and tips the scales at approximately ¼ lb. All chipmunks have large cheek pouches. Chipmunks "speak" using high-pitched whistles and chirps.
Most chipmunk species are found in North America, from Canada to Mexico, however there is one Asian species that ranges from central Russia through China and Japan. The Eastern chipmunk dominates the area east of the Mississippi River; several species of chipmunks live west of the Mississippi. Chipmunks can live in a variety of environments, but often are found in brush land or at the edges of forests. Chipmunks also enjoy suburban backyards and can even live in city parks.
Chipmunks live in places where they can store the food that they carry in their large cheek pouches. These include bushes and logs, as well as burrows that chipmunks dig out of the ground. Chipmunks eat seeds, nuts, berries and sometimes insects and birds. Chipmunks that live in urban environments will also eat human food, such as potato chips and bread. Chipmunks are solitary creatures with interactions generally only take place during mating and between a mother and her litter.
Chipmunks have positive effects on the environment. By picking up and storing food, they distribute seeds and mushroom spores throughout the ecosystems where they live, encouraging new growth. They also provide a source of food for carnivorous animals. Unfortunately, chipmunks can also transmit diseases, especially if humans interact with them---chipmunk bites, apart from being painful, can lead to bacterial infections. They can also dig up gardens, but there are easy methods to keep chipmunks away from planted bulbs and seeds (see Resources).
Chipmunks are popular animals in children's entertainment. Disney's cartoon chipmunks "Chip 'n Dale" are the stars of many animated shorts and the children's television series "Chip 'n Dale's Rescue Rangers." Other famous animated chipmunks include the squeaky singing trio, "Alvin and the Chipmunks." A CGI-animated movie featuring Alvin and his friends was released by 20th Century Fox in 2007 and a sequel, "Alvin and the Chipmunks 2: The Squeakuel," is planned.