Richardson's Ground Squirrels

Quick Facts about Richardson's Ground Squirrels
(also known as gophers)

For detailed information on various aspects of the biology of Richardson's ground squirrel use the links and drop-down menus across the top of this page

English common name: Richardson's ground squirrel

Vernacular names: gopher, flickertail, picket-pin

Scientific name: Urocitellus richardsonii,  formerly Spermophilus richardsonii

Taxonomy: Class Mammalia, Order Rodentia, Family Sciuridae

Geographic range:

  • southerly portions of Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba in Canada
  • parts of Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Minnesota in the United States

Habitat: short-grass and mixed-grass prairies of North America

Lifestyle:

  • forage above ground during daylight hours in active season
  • sleep underground
  • hibernate for 4-8 months depending on age and sex

 Reproduction:

  • sexually mature when 1 year old
  • 2- to 3-week mating season in early spring
  • males' testes regress at the end of the mating season
  • female may mate with several males during her 2-hour estrous period
  • litter of 5 to 8 young born underground after 23-day pregnancy
  • litter appears above ground at 29-30 days of age
  • females can produce ONLY one litter a year
  • even if a female loses her litter early in pregnancy or lactation, she will not breed again until the next year

Social system:

  • each adult female has her own burrow system
  • each adult female rears her own litter alone and without assistance from the father(s)
  • daughters settle near their birth site; sons disperse from the birth site
  • females form matriarchal society based on maternal kinship

 Sex ratio:

  • equal numbers of females and males as juveniles
  • females outnumber males by at least 3:1 as adults

 Longevity:

  • about 35-45% of free-living young females survive to adulthood
  • adult females often survive to 3 or 4 years of age and occasionally live to 5 or 6 years of age
  • about 5-15% of free-living young males survive to adulthood
  • adult males occasionally live to 3 years of age
  • in captivity, female pets live to an average of 4.4 years and male pets to an average of 3.5 years

 Mortality:

major causes of natural death are:

  • predators (especially badgers, weasels, and hawks)
  • inclement weather (especially flooding)

 Size:

  • adult females weigh 220-270 g on emergence from hibernation
  • adult males weigh 350-400 g on emergence from hibernation
  • animals fatten in preparation for hibernation

 Diet:

  • primarily vegetarian, eating leafy material and seeds
  • sometimes eat insects (especially grasshoppers) and roadkills
Page Views: 19951