AppearanceThe Belding’s ground squirrel is medium-sized with "a relatively short tail, short limbs, and small ears". It has a gray pelage become more cinnamon at the underside and reddish-brown on the back. Its body length is 230 to 300 millimetres . The tail is 44 to 76 millimetres and is bushy but also flattened. The distal hairs of the tail have three color bands, one black, one white and one red. On average, the ground squirrel weighs 290 grams . Its feet are covered in little to no hair. Compared to other ground squirrel species, its cheek pouch are moderate in size.
HabitatBeing native to the northwestern United States, the Belding’s ground squirrel ranges covers northeastern Oregon and part of Washington, north California, southwestern Idaho, north and central Nevada and northwestern Utah. The ground squirrel prefers to live at higher altitudes, occurring in alpine and subalpine meadows. It is also found in sagebrush flats, brush/grass habitats and cultivated areas. The grounds squirrels are largely restricted to open areas with enough fresh vegetation and water. They do not live in dense forests, tall grasses, rocky slopes or thick shrubbery as they can’t watch for predators. In addition they do not prefer grass that is too short as they can’t hide from predators.
ReproductionFor Belding’s ground squirrels mating occurs after hibernation, usually in late May to early June. The ground squirrels mate promiscuously, as both males and females mate with multiple partners. Females are sexually receptive for less than five hours each year. Thus when a female is receptive, the males immediately gather around her. They will fight viciously to gain access, grappling, kicking, scratching, and biting each other. Larger, older, and stronger males are more likely to mate. A single female can mate with as many as five males during her estrous; this increases the chance of pregnancy, and also increases genetic diversity.
Females give birth to one litter a year. Pregnant females will dig nesting burrows and gather grass and grass roots to make nests. Nesting-only territories are established around these burrows. Females protect the burrows against intruding unrelated conspecifics by attacking and chasing them. Defense of the territories lasts until the young are weaned. The gestation period of the ground squirrel lasts 23–31 days and young are born late June to early July in higher elevation regions, while in lower areas such as Central Oregon young are born in March and emerge from their dens en masse about mid-April when the first warm days of spring begin. Litter sizes range from 3-8 young. Females do all the parenting for the young as males disperse directly after mating. In their first few weeks of life, the pups are raised underground in the nesting burrow. They first emerge from the burrows in July and early August, at least in higher elevations, and are weaned at 27 days old. At first, the young stay near the entrance to the burrow but start to explore on their third day. Males disperse from their natal burrow after they are weaned and continue to disperse after they breed successfully. The male that mates the most moves farther away from the colony he mated in. Females rarely disperse from their natal burrows. Infanticide is known to occur in Belding’s ground squirrels. An intruding squirrel will drag a squealing, squirming juvenile out of the nest burrow, and promptly kill it by biting its head. The killer will also sometimes eat the carcass. Adult females and yearling males are more often the killers. The perpetrators of infanticide do not reside in the same area as the victim. Females never kill their relatives and they will help their kin in protecting their young from infanticide.
FoodBelding’s ground squirrels have a largely herbivorous diet. However they will also eat insects, carrion, other vertebrates, and even other conspecifics. They mostly eat flowers and seeds. They also eat nuts, grains, roots, bulbs, mushrooms and green vegetation. Belding’s ground squirrels do not keep food in caches. Instead they store fat reserves. As such, the ground squirrels may eat a great amount of food before hibernation. They most spend as much of 40% of the summer eating. When eating, the ground squirrel feeds itself with its front paws while stand on its back paws.
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