Have you ever been to Anza Borrego State Park and seen a cute chipmunk-like animal running in the sand, or seen 3” holes in the ground and wondered what made them? Most likely it is the White-tailed Antelope Squirrel, one of the many animals that makes the desert its home and is well adapted to survive and thrive there.
Background: Ammospermophilus leucurus is about 6” long, weighs 5–6 ounces, and has a white stripe on each side. It has a 3″ long tail that is white on its underside. It is diurnal, so during the spring and summer it is the only small desert mammal you are likely to see during the day. It is remarkably adapted to withstand the hot desert heat and is reported to survive body temperatures up to 108 F. To cool down, it will lay down flat on the ground, particularly after removing the topmost layer of soil with its feet.
The squirrels are omnivorous, eating seeds, leaves, insects, arthropods and fruit, and store their food in their underground burrows. It is estimated that they forage over a range of about 15 acres. They are active all year in Anza Borrego. The females have a litter in spring and sometimes in summer; the litter size usually ranges from 5–14 babies, and the young are reared entirely by the female. They are found in southwestern deserts west and north of the Colorado river.
How to See Them: Some of the best places to see them are where humans regularly visit, such as the visitor center. I’ve seen them there many times, but they usually run if you approach them. As with most wildlife, you have a better chance of observing them if you sit quietly near where you have seen them. While some of the squirrels have been given treats by well-meaning people, please don’t feed them. For more information about the Antelope Squirrel, visit: http://digital-desert.com/wildlife/antelope-squirrel.html.
Photos and blog by Barbara Swanson