|The Inupiaq people call this animal a tsik-tsik
for the sound it makes when alarmed (which is most of the time.) We usually
see Arctic Ground Squirrels at a distance, as they chirp-chirp with
annoyance, then duck into a burrow. The first photo is an example of this,
seen along the Gold Cord trail in Hatcher Pass, Independence Mine Park.
I was not able to approach that one (and many others like it) any closer.
Back at the parking lot by the Independence Mine Visitor Center, there were
friendlier squirrels, probably used to accepting tidbids from tourists.
The other three photos are of one of these parking lot critters, who allowed
me to get much closer.|
Arctic Ground Squirrels are the largest of North America's ground squirrels
(up to 14"), and the only species that lives in Alaska. In addition
to Alaska, it ranges across the northern provinces of Canada, to Baffin
Island, and into eastern Siberia. Arctic Ground Squirrels are abundant on
alpine or arctic tundra throughout Alaska. They are a prey species for many
other animals, including bears, wolves, owls and eagles. Humans have also
used them for meat and fur in the past. So perhaps their state of constant
alarm is understandable.
Arctic Ground Squirrels eat mostly plant matter (seeds, fruits, flowers,
roots, leaves, mushrooms,etc.) but will include insects and small animals
in the diet too.They nearly double their weight during the summer to prepare
for a long hibernation in the winter, which can last for up to seven months.
They line their burrows with grasses, and cover the openings to protect
themselves during hibernation. However, because of the severe conditions
where they live, temperatures in the burrows can still drop to 0º F.
Their body temperature can drop to 26-27ºF without causing the animal
any harm. This is the lowest body temperature of any mammal. During the
summer, the body temperature is 98.6ºF.
The squirrels emerge from hibernation when conditions permit, usually in
April. Mating occurs in May, and babies are born in June. The pups are tiny
at birth, only about 10 grams, but they grow very fast and are weaned at
about six weeks. They have to get large and fat enough to survive hibernation
in only five months.
Class: Mammalia (animals that suckle young with milk)
Order: Rodentia (gnawing mammals)
Family: Sciuridae (squirrels, "scurrying" rodents)
Genus: Spermophilus (seed eaters, includes other ground squirrels)
Species: parryii (named for famed Arctic explorer, William Parry)