California Ground Squirrel

Ground squirrel Terra - Paul Hara

Spermophilus beecheyi

Unlike the tree squirrels seen in the park, California ground squirrels live in underground burrows where they sleep, raise babies, and store food.  Found in fields and meadows throughout the Bay Area, they eat mostly seeds, berries, and leaves.

California ground squirrels are keystone species due to the fact that so many other species depend on ground squirrels.  They are an important food source for golden eagles and hawks. Squirrel burrows also provide shelter for tiger salamanders, snakes, invertebrates, and burrowing owls.  Larger animals like rabbits and grey foxes will also expand ground squirrel burrows to use as dens.

Ground squirrels sit up on hind legs to watch for predators such as golden eagles, hawks, and foxes.  When frightened, they warn others with an alarm call.  They also have several unique behaviors specifically in response to snakes.  Snakes, such as rattlesnakes or gopher snakes, primarily go after young ground squirrels and rely on the element of surprise.  When threatened by a snake, an adult ground squirrel will perform a “tail wave” display.  This display lets the snake know that they have been spotted, ruining the element of surprise.  The snake will usually back off following this display.  If the “tail wave” does not deter the predator, adult ground squirrels, which have a resistance to rattlesnake venom, will attack a snake to protect their young.

Our California ground squirrel is one of our newest residents.  She was originally found as a baby and kept as a pet for several years before she was brought to our wildlife hospital.  Wild animals usually become destructive in a house as they mature and do not make good pets; it is against the law to keep native mammals like ground squirrels.

Ground squirrel families, usually each with its own burrow, live in large colonies in the wild with much social interaction and mental stimulation.  Our keepers spend a great deal of time with our squirrel, giving her that extra stimulation and attention that she might otherwise miss.

Go “underground” at our exhibit The Burrow, to learn about different kinds of burrowing animals.